GREENPORT — Making her first Holy Communion last weekend was truly a wish come true for Bethzy Bran-Lopez, a six-year-old girl from St. Agnes parish here with a tiny body and an enormous love for Jesus.
Struggling all her life from a genetic disorder, Bethzy is only the size of a toddler, weighing about 18 pounds. Her condition affects her lungs and heart, preventing her body from getting enough oxygen, so she is tethered to an oxygen tank by a tube inserted in her throat.
Yet, her family and friends refer to her as a ray of sunshine, who brings joy wherever she goes.
Bethzy loves the Disney princesses and the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which fulfills “wishes” of children with life-threatening illnesses, would have sent her to the Magic Kingdom, but she is not well enough to travel. When asked what she would like instead, Bethzy said she wanted to receive Communion and to see her parents, Jose and Mirta, get married in the Church.
One of Bethzy’s favorite people is Dominican Sister Margaret Smyth, who coordinates the North Fork Hispanic Apostolate. Sister Margaret said everyone wanted to help the Bran-Lopez family create a happy memory so, with the help of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, St. Agnes parishioners, friends and other members of the community, she arranged for Bethzy to receive her first Communion during her parents’ wedding on June 8, with a party following in the parish hall.
The entire family walked down the aisle together, Jose pushing the wheelchair that held the equipment which helps his daughter breathe. Instead of flowers, the bride carried Bethzy in one arm while she clasped the hand of three-year-old Lucia with her other hand. The wedding didn’t start on time, not because the bride was late, but because Bethzy was having trouble breathing. Her mother and father donned blue surgical gloves with their wedding finery to clear Bethzy’s airway and pump oxygen into her lungs.
During the wedding ceremony, Jose had to regularly reach over to stop a beeping alarm on the oxygen monitor. Other times, Bethzy did it herself. At times she seemed tired, slumping over the arm of her wheelchair from the stool she perched on, but when it came time for the Gospel reading, Bethzy stretched herself up as tall as she could and joined enthusiastically in singing the “Allelulia.”
Jose and Mirta exchanged their vows with their daughters looking on. Sister Margaret noted that the word love is used for so many things, often trivial ones. “In times of challenges and difficulties, this is where we see real love,” she said. “We come here tonight to celebrate this love, as they declare their love in the presence of God.”
After the vows, the couple’s best man and maid of honor draped a lasso (a large rosary) over them, symbolizing the bond of marriage. Then it was Bethzy’s turn. As Father Thomas Murphy, pastor of St. Agnes, bent to give her the Eucharist, she was captivated, never taking her eyes from the priest.
Sister Margaret said Mirta has always taught her daughters about their faith and Bethzy couldn’t wait to receive Jesus. “Last week, Bethzy was sticking her tongue out at her nurse and I said to her, ‘what would Jesus think of that?’ and she lowered her head and got very quiet,” said Sister Margaret.
Following the ceremony, there was a reception in the parish hall, complete with a DJ playing Disney tunes, a face painter and a three-tiered cake with a bride and groom on one layer and a Communion figurine on the top. Karine Hollander, president and CEO of Make-a-Wish Foundation of Suffolk County, said they would have had the reception anywhere, but the family wanted it here at the parish so their community of friends could be there.
Among the special guests were Mickey and Minnie Mouse, courtesy of costumes provided by Make-A-Wish and the beyond-the-call-of-duty dedication of Sister Margaret and fellow Dominican Sister Lynn Queck, who donned the giant heads and shoes and mingled with the guests.
Sister Lynn is a chaplain at Stony Brook University Medical Center where Bethzy requires frequent treatments. “She is a real special little girl. She brings such joy to the floor,” Sister Lynn said. “Her mother never leaves her side and she always receives Communion when she is at the hospital. Then her mother blesses Bethzy and she lights up.”
Parishioners came together to make this event special for the Bran-Lopez family, Sister Margaret said. A group came in to set up tables and chairs and decorate. There was catered food and special treats made by parishioners to personalize the event.
“This family has so many hard times,” said Sister Margaret. “They have love and strong faith. We can’t change their situation but we could help them have that special night and that happy memory.”
Jose and Mirta Bran-Lopez process down the aisle for their wedding with their children Bethzy and Lucia.