Our Lady of Charity, Our Mother
On September 8th Cubans everywhere celebrated the 400th anniversary of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, patroness of Cuba and, in a special way, advocate for all who feel displaced, far from home, or living in exile.
Caridad, as she is affectionately known, wants nothing more than to gather her children together and bring them to her son, Jesus. It seems such a simple desire—corrupted now in popular culture with the ironic "Can't we all just get along."
But Charity's message is clear. It is first a message of Love. She holds the Child Jesus in her arms, close to her heart, and we are reminded that she is mother to us all because she is mother to the One.
Her appearance 400 years ago to three young men adrift in a stormy sea by the Bay of Nipe, off the coast of Cuba, inspires hope. Charity's presence in our lives today is just as relevant as we navigate the stormy seas of the 21st century.
With the infant Jesus in one hand, and the cross in the other, we are reminded, literally, of the message she carries. Our salvation is present and accessible through her, always—every time we turn to her for guidance or succor, as those young men did centuries before us.
She is, for me, a symbol of the faith for which my parents sacrificed so much. As a Cuban-born American, much of my cultural identity connects with Our Lady of Charity. She is iconic, a symbol for the Cuban people, but she is so much more.
As a child, my mom often whispered into my ear as she hugged and kissed me goodbye, "Que la virgen te acompañe." No matter how old I get, and how far away I live, I can count on my mom's blessing before I travel. Instead of a whispered caress, today I get a text message, "May Our Lady accompany you."
This gentle reminder that Our Lady would accompany me on my journey, to my child's mind, was just one of those things moms said. To my adult heart, the knowledge that Mary does indeed accompany me buoys me when I feel adrift in my own Bay of Nipe. Consoling and calm, Caridad stands as a beacon . . . always calling me to safety, showing me the way home to her Son.
The little icon of Our Lady of Charity has been traveling throughout the island nation of Cuba these past three years in a beautiful pilgrimage awakening a dormant faith, inspiring hope, and spreading love to a nation thirsty for Christ's message.
Pope Benedict XVI, in his 2012 address at the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, called on the Cuban people to look upon the Blessed Mother as a model.
Following the example of the Most Holy Virgin, I encourage all the sons and daughters of this dear country to continue to build their lives on the firm rock which is Jesus Christ, to work for justice, to be servants of charity and to persevere in the midst of trials.
The theme of this pilgrimage, indeed, the theme for the 400th anniversary celebration was "Charity Unites Us/Caridad nos une." This lovely play on words, in both English and Spanish, speaks a great Truth, that Love unites us in the Body of Christ. All of us.
Que la virgen te acompañe.
María Morera Johnson teaches composition and literature at a technical college in Georgia, and consults and writes about trends in post-secondary education. She serves on the Board of Directors of the Star Quest Production Network (sqpn.com) and co-hosts Catholic Weekend, a weekly current events podcast.