On this Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, new missioner Jeff Sved remembers encountering God during his time in Hispanic ministry with Franciscan Volunteer Ministry last year.

The rain was pounding outside as my friend Carlos and I sat in the back of the van listening to Queen. We waited with a mixture of excitement, anxiousness, and dread for our next turn to run.

It was our second day with “La Carrera Antorcha Guadalupana” (The Guadalupe Torch Run), and the constant rain had dampened our spirits that had soared during the trek from Baltimore to Wilmington the day earlier.

The 80 miles flew by the previous day as we’d jump in and out of the vans taking our turns running with the torch. It was one of the most exciting and unique experiences of my life.

My first run was terrifying, though. As I waited to receive the torch from the runner in line ahead of me, I imagined myself dropping it. I had no clue how heavy the torch was, but was starting to grasp the magnitude of what the torch represented.

A little over two months before, the torch had been lit at the shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, built on the spot that La Virgen appeared to Juan Diego.

For the past 10 years this torch had made the journey from Mexico City to New York City, being passed from community to community and parish to parish, celebrating the unity of one people across the border.

Running the torch in the rain

For many of my fellow runners, the torch represented a connection with their family and friends back home who weeks earlier had joined in a similar journey.

Luckily, I didn’t drop the torch, at that point or the few dozen other times I was running with it. The second leg of our journey from Wilmington to New Brunswick was not as smooth. While I didn’t drop the torch, there was quite a bit of trouble with the rain and the traffic on the roads we were running along.

Sitting with Carlos in the van, we started to sing along to “We Are the Champions,” and I began to realize more of the celebration I was blessed to be taking part in. The torch was not only a symbol of unity, but also a reminder of hope brought through the Virgin of Guadalupe. Her apparition, as a native Aztec, speaking in the native language of Nahuatl, helped to transform Catholicism from the religion of the white oppressors into the global faith that we now know.

In many ways this unity was the victory we were remembering. Fittingly, all thirty runners, even with the rain, joined together for the last few blocks, with Luis and me singing throughout, remembering that we are champions and we will keep fighting for this unity. Que Viva La Virgen de Guadalupe!

In January, Jeff will begin two years of mission in solidarity with the people of Cochabamba, Bolivia. To support Jeff’s mission, make a donation on the Franciscan Mission Service website