Jovanny and Verenice Garcia receive communion from Father Sabas Ntimia Mallya at Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission in Fellsmere, May 16. (COURTESY)

Pandemic changes plan, but not beauty of sacramental marriage

Fellsmere  |  Jovanny and Verenice Garcia expected more than 500 guests to attend their wedding, May 16, 2020. 

Instead, only 10 people were allowed inside the church of Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission in Fellsmere.

“Just when we had all the plans settled and the wedding arrangements made, the coronavirus hit and we had to rethink everything,” said Verenice of her mid-pandemic wedding. 

Jovanny and Verenice come from a large Mexican family, who were traveling from various parts of the U.S. and Mexico to be there on the young couple’s big day. Like most weddings scheduled during the months of March through June, the Garcias’ wedding would have to be postponed or cancelled altogether. 

“At first, I thought about postponing the wedding until much later, but we were eager to be married in the Church,” Verenice said. “Jovanny was the one who encouraged me to do what we could to make the day happen.”

For the Garcias, their wedding day was much more than the process of scheduling a venue, securing caterers, planning decorations or selecting a wedding band — all of which were either cancelled or re-worked into the couple’s new reception plans. Their May wedding would be the culmination of more than a year’s worth of preparations for their previous civil wedding in 2011 to be recognized by the Catholic Church, otherwise known as convalidation. 

Verenice shared that although both her and her husband had been raised Catholic, she fell away from the Church as a young adult and Jovanny never received his confirmation. In recent years, they took to attending Mass again, but refrained from receiving Communion. This missing out on the “source and summit of Christian life” got them thinking about their civil wedding. Verenice said the couple had the spiritual wellbeing of their 1-year-old son to think about. 

“We wanted our marriage to be blessed so that we could raise our son fully in the Church,” she said. “It also encouraged us to look at our own relationship with our faith and how we could be stronger in it.”

This prompted Jovanny to enroll in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program at their parish so that he could be confirmed in the Catholic faith. Afterwards, the couple began marriage preparation courses and the planning of festivities in celebration of their convalidation. 

Jovanny and Verenice felt that the ambiguity surrounding the pandemic, and the planning and then re-planning of  the events of their big, day was stressful for them but, said Jovanny, “We knew that, even though the party wouldn’t be the way we planned it, we didn’t want to get married for the party. The most important thing was for our marriage to receive the blessing.” 

The couple were married by Father Sabas Ntimia Mallya, a religious order priest of Apostolic Life Community of Priests in the Opus Spiritus Sancti. Verenice’s immediate family was present in the church to witness them exchange vows. 

The bride and groom stated that they felt the sadness of not having Jovanny’s grandparents and extended family be there, but were comforted in knowing that they were watching the ceremony from the safety of their homes in Mexico livestreamed through Facebook Live. The couple also made the difficult decision to keep their son, Johan, outside of the church so that he remained safely socially distanced. The toddler waited outside with Verenice’s four siblings, Jovanny’s two brothers, and a few aunts, uncles and cousins in accordance with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s social distancing guidelines. 

The ceremony itself was enriched by the couple’s Mexican wedding traditions, which include the presentation of the lazzo, arras and a Bible. The lazzo, a large beaded rosary draped around the bride and groom, signifies the binding love of Christ in marriage. The arras are gold coins that symbolize good fortune and health for the couple’s future. These items, said Verenice, are usually presented to the bride and groom by couples who represent strong, holy marriages in their lives. 

“The couples we chose to present these items to us were not able to enter the church, but they brought the lazzo, arras and Bible with them before the ceremony so that they could still participate in our day,” Verenice said. 

After the ceremony, the newlyweds kicked off their small reception at Verenice’s grandfather’s property in Fellsmere.

“When our original venue cancelled, my grandpa offered his little ranch to us,” Verenice said. “I was so skeptical about how we would make this open property with cows and horses on it look like a wedding venue. I knew there would be a lot of manure to clean up before we could set up anything.”  

Thankfully, the deposit on the original decorations was able to be transferred to a large party tent, which Verenice’s family set up and surprised her with on the day. “I remember dancing with Jovanny in the middle of the dance floor and looking around to all our family there and thinking, ‘I love the way our wedding turned out.’ I stopped worrying about the details and the scariness of the virus and just enjoyed the moment,” she said.