A small crowd was gathered around a blue pickup truck parked outside St. Agnes Church in Greenport just after noon on Thursday for the big unveiling.
As one of the men began pulled off the wrapping protecting a statue strapped to the bed of the truck, the worshippers circled the truck to take pictures.
A small statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe — a beloved religious icon for Latin American Christians — was perched on a cherry-colored wooden pedestal called an anda, which was decorated with flowers laid on fake grass.
An arch framing the idol was interwoven with roses. The display took almost a month to prepare, organizers said.
As four men carefully carried the platform into the church, another group was rushing back to the East End from New York City by van, bearing a sacred flame to commemorate the day.
For these devout Hispanic men and women, the hours of preparation were worth it.
“It’s to say thank you,” said Riverhead resident Tarciso Cerafico — who helped build the tribute — through a translator. “For my health, for my family’s health, for what I’ve received here in the United States.”
More than 40 runners — men, women, and children from across the North Fork — helped carry the sacred flame from Greenport to a special mass in Riverhead Thursday evening to honor the religious symbol on her feast day.
Our Lady of Guadalupe, also known as the Virgin of Guadalupe, is a title for the Virgin Mary connected to a specific image of the holy figure that is believed to have been revealed to a devout Catholic in Mexico on the man’s cloak in the 1500s.
Though Our Lady of Guadalupe was originally a Mexican icon, she has since spread to areas across Latin America as a symbol of peace and protection.
“They dedicate everything they do to be under the protection of Our Lady of Guadalupe,” said Sister Margaret Smyth, founder of the North Fork Spanish Apostolate.
The Virgin of Guadalupe is celebrated each Dec. 12, the day the image was originally revealed, according to the church. While Latin American Christians on the North Fork have celebrated her feast day in the past, organizers decided to try something special this year.
A group of worshippers drove into New York City to retrieve a holy flame that had been run from the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City to New York City over the past 80 days.
The flame was part of the ceremony held at St. Patricks Cathedral. As residents gathered in Riverhead for an early morning mass Thursday morning, the volunteers lit a lantern with the flame in the city and drove it back out to Greenport.
Organizer Jose Galvan said the flame had been a tradition in celebrations in New York City for years, but the ceremonies were too far for most North Fork residents.
“It seemed like it was impossible for us to go in and do it,” Mr. Galvan said. Someone came up with the idea to bring the flame out East, and the community rallied around the plan.
“We got a lot of people for our first time,” he said.
The flame was transferred to a hand-made torch and carried into St. Agnes Church on Front Street.
Worshippers sang hymns in Spanish and prayed as the display Mr. Cerafico helped build was laid at the head of the altar in the church.
After blessing the statue and the flame, the group of runners loaded up the statue into the back of a pickup truck. They then took turns running with the flame along Route 25 into Riverhead, with the truck carrying the statue driving close behind.
Local police in Southold and Riverhead approved the parade in advance and helped keep the runners safe, Sister Margaret said.
The group ran for hours, finishing the roughly 20-mile journey later that evening at St. John’s the Evangelist Church in time for the second mass at 7 p.m.
“We put ourselves in her hands,” said Oscar Cruz, a Greenport man who helped carry the flame. “It means everything for us. So we’re glad and we’re happy to do something for her.”