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Bishop DiMarzio recalls life of first U.S. priest Father Jorge Ortiz-Garay who died of COVID-19

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A portrait of the late Father Jorge Ortiz-Garay is seen in the sanctuary of St. Brigid Church in Brooklyn, N.Y., March 27, 2021, on the first anniversary of his death from COVID-19. Father Ortiz-Garay, who was 49 and pastor of St. Brigid's when he died, is recognized as the first Catholic priest in the U.S. to succumb to the coronavirus. Ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J., in 2004, he began serving in the Diocese of Brooklyn in 2009 and was coordinator of the diocese's ministry to Mexican immigrants. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

BROOKLYN, N.Y.  — Father Jorge Ortiz-Garay of Brooklyn, the first U.S. priest to die from complications of COVID-19, was recalled as “a good and saintly priest” by his bishop during a bilingual Mass marking the first anniversary of his death.

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio recalled the life of Father Ortiz-Garay, 49, pastor of St. Brigid Church in Brooklyn, describing the native of Mexico as a man dedicated to serving God and the faithful.

He assured the people attending the Mass March 27 at St. Brigid Church that Father Ortiz-Garay is with God.

Father Carlos Velasquez, St. Brigid pastor, called the anniversary “a sad day in the life of our parish,” reported The Tablet, the diocesan newspaper. The pandemic caused “deep pain” in the community, he said. There were 80 to 90 other deaths in the parish from the coronavirus.

Pictures of the beloved late pastor stood on either side of the altar. On one side, a large framed photo of Father Ortiz-Garay had been lovingly placed between two large vases of flowers. Another picture stood on the other side of the altar beneath a painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a nod of respect to the late priest’s Mexican heritage.

Father Ortiz-Garay also served as the director of the diocesan Mexican Apostolate.

Saying it appears that the continuing COVID-19 pandemic “does not seem to be coming to an end anytime soon,” Bishop DiMarzio focused on the priest’s life by drawing comparisons to his devotion to God to the Mass readings, which provide encouragement and a challenge.

In the first reading from the Maccabees, Bishop DiMarzio said, the faithful recognize that prayer for those who have died is “not useless” because a collection had been taken up so that sacrifices could be offered for those who had fallen in battle.

“As the reading tells us, it would be superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead unless their sins could be absolved as they awaited the Resurrection. The hope of the Resurrection was already alive before Christ came. And in his coming, we understand that this promise is fulfilled,” he said.

The second reading from the letter to the Romans shows that nothing can separate the faithful from the love of Christ,” the bishop explained, “neither distress, persecution, the peril of the sword or even a pandemic.” For those who remain faithful, God promises eternal life, he said.

Finally, in John’s Gospel, the bishop continued, Jesus reminded the disciples that in God’s house, there are many dwelling places. “Yes, the Father’s house is where God dwells in the Trinity in its majesty, God awaits those who have loved him in this world. The way to heaven, as Jesus tells us, is to follow him,” he said.

“In one way or another, we are all awaiting our turn to return to the Father’s house with the many places prepared for those who love him,” Bishop DiMarzio said.

“Today, we are assured that Father Jorge who has proceeded us has undergone already his purification and enjoys his place in the Father’s house,” he added.

“We seek in the communion of saints the intercession of Father Jorge. We pray for him, and we ask him to pray for us that we too may enter the Father’s house when our time comes,” the bishop said.

Following Communion, several parishioners, each holding a white rose, approached the altar. One by one, each person brought the rose to the side of the altar, where a woman received each rose and gently placed it in front of the picture of Father Ortiz-Garay.

The Mass was the first of four liturgies at St. Brigid offered in Father Ortiz-Garay’s memory to allow as many people as possible to remember their beloved pastor. The priest also was memorialized at a Mass at Our Lady of Mercy Parish in Mexico City.