Elmira resident Karen Kilpatrick is troubled by the current state of her community, which she says is plagued by increases in violent crime, drug-related problems, suicides, New Age influences and people falling away from the Catholic faith.
"I really felt that we needed to do something to bring about change and conversion of heart," said Kilpatrick, a member of Christ the Redeemer Parish.
Fueled by that concern, she arranged for the traveling Missionary Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe to come to the Southern Tier for more than a month beginning in mid-August, when it spent its extended stay in the Elmira and Corning areas.
The image represents the Virgin Mary as she is believed to have appeared in 1531 on the tilma, or coat, of St. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, an Aztec Indian. Her original image from that occurrence is preserved at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, near the site where the appearance is said to have occurred. Since the image is not permitted to leave Mexico, four photographic replicas of it have been blessed at the basilica to travel around the United States.
These actual-size (4 by 6 feet) images are sought to assist in bringing about conversions, healing and miracles. Kilpatrick, who served as guardian of the image that came to the Southern Tier, said the local appearance could be viewed as "a response to the prayers of the faithful in the community and the need for hope in these very stressful days. The Blessed Mother is a mother who loves her children very much and comes to remind us that she is always very near to help."
To begin the image’s Southern Tier visit, a nine-day rosary novena was held in Elmira Aug. 20-28. Each evening worshipers gathered at Ss. Peter and Paul Church to begin a motor-vehicle procession around the city with the missionary image prominently displayed; on their route participants offered intentions for the welfare of the city and surrounding communities.
Kilpatrick noted that some non-Catholics took part in the procession as well. She added that Deacon George Welch from Ss. Peter and Paul Parish, who assisted with the novena, had the idea of opening the church so those who were unable to travel in the motorcade could still participate by praying "and that worked out very well."
The nine-day novena was dubbed Project Jericho, a symbolic encircling of the city in faith "just like the Israelites did in the story of Jericho," Kilpatrick said. She was referring to the sixth chapter of the Book of Joshua, which depicts the Israelites defeating Jericho after having marched around the city for several days based on instructions given by God to Joshua.
"The feedback that I’ve gotten from those that attended the novena was that they are very much enriched and uplifted spiritually," Kilpatrick said. "Many commented on how much they loved the program."
Following conclusion of the novena, the missionary image was brought to the homes of various devotees for visitation. In addition, for several days the image was visibly transported around the Corning area in much the same way it toured through Elmira. Included in these travels was a stop in front of the local Planned Parenthood clinic where prayer took place.
Our Lady of Guadalupe’s image was highlighted the weekend of Sept. 11-13 with special prayer events arranged by parishioners of All Saints Parish in Corning and Painted Post. Adoration, Divine Mercy Chaplets and rosaries were held at All Saints Academy and Immaculate Heart of Mary Church on Sept. 11, St. Mary Church on Sept. 12 and St. Vincent de Paul Church on Sept. 13 where a concluding Latin Mass and Benediction took place.
During the image’s final two weeks in the Tier, it appeared in such places as Elmira Notre Dame High School and a local prayer group meeting. The image’s last day in the region was Sept. 27.
Kilpatrick said she believes the missionary image’s appearance, in addition to being supported by the community, got special endorsements from above as well. For example, she noted that on the Elmira novena’s first evening, following heavy rain throughout the day, a ray of light beamed through the church window just as prayers to Mary began — and as the motorcade was about to begin, a full rainbow appeared and the rain had stopped. Then, while prayer was taking place on the novena’s final day, two witnesses saw clouds form a perfect cross directly over Ss. Peter and Paul Church.
"We accepted these as signs that heaven was pleased with our efforts," Kilpatrick remarked.