The festival of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, patroness of Cuba, drew thousands of people to Masses and processions that were marked by messages of love and unity for Cubans on and off the island, where this year the 400th anniversary of the finding of the saint’s image is being held.
Just as in the earlier celebrations of the Jubilee Year, which began in January, prayers “for each and every Cuban wherever they may be” were given on Saturday, the festival for the patron saint in a country that considers that image of the Virgin Mary found in 1612 as a symbol of identity and faith.
At the patroness’s national sanctuary, located in the town of El Cobre in the eastern province of Santiago de Cuba, hundreds of people jammed the church on Saturday to attend a Mass that began with the Cuban national anthem and was broadcast live on national television.
Besides the religious faithful, present at the Mass at El Cobre were local municipal officials from the city of Santiago de Cuba, located some 950 kilometers (589 miles) east of Havana, as well as the head of the Office of Religious Affairs on the Central Committee of the governing Communist Party, Caridad Diego.
In Havana there was a huge procession through the streets of Caridad parish in Central Havana headed by Cardinal Jaime Ortega.
Ortega, who is archbishop of Havana, celebrated a Mass at which he said that the Virgin of Charity “is more than a symbol of the homeland, it’s like a link that unites all Cubans without distinction.”
As the statue of La Virgen de la Caridad, Our Lady of Charity, completed its 30-minute journey across a stretch of the Biscayne Bay for her 400th anniversary celebration here on Saturday, a rainbow burst into view to frame her arrival.
In this city long devoted to La Virgen, the patron saint of Cuba, it was yet another dazzling display of her munificence and mystery. Mexicans may have La Virgen de Guadalupe, but among Cubans, Cachita, as she is endearingly called, reigns supreme.
“Viva Cuba Libre!” shouted the Cuban exiles who greeted the statue at the slip and who, over the decades, helped transform this once sleepy town into a playground of guayabera shirts, Cuban cafecito and rhythmic congas. “Viva Cuba Libre!”
Inside the American Airlines Arena, at least 13,000 people awaited the entrance of La Virgen, in her sparkling gown of gold lamé, to attend a Mass in her honor. And, this being Miami, a raucous party followed with a lineup of Cuban musicians and singers. A similar scene played out in Cuba, where for the first time a simultaneous celebration of the Virgin took place and was shown on Cuban national television, a sign of burgeoning religious tolerance on an island that once shunned Roman Catholics and their rituals.
“For 400 years she has been not only a religious icon, but a symbol of Cubanía, or the Cuban identity; she makes Cubans feel more Cuban,” said Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, who presided over the Mass on Saturday, the 400th anniversary of her feast day.