Jannah Theme License is not validated, Go to the theme options page to validate the license, You need a single license for each domain name.

The Virgin of Charity bridges divides among Cubans, encompassing Catholics, Santeria devotees, exiles, and those residing on the island.

Ramon Nieblas gazed tearfully at the petite golden statue, a cherished symbol of Cuba’s patron saint. In a soft whisper, he pleaded with the Virgin of Charity of Cobre for a miracle: to heal his ailing son.

“I’ve come to pray for his well-being,” expressed Nieblas, a Cuban residing in Brazil, who had traveled thousands of miles to the basilica in eastern Cuba, nestled amidst the Sierra Maestra mountains, a revered pilgrimage destination.

In the midst of Mass, Nieblas embraced his 26-year-old son, Hernando Nieblas, a physician battling leukemia. They joined the throngs of devotees who flock to the shrine annually, seeking the intercession of the Virgin Mary for their most pressing concerns and offering gratitude for their blessings.

The Virgin of Charity holds profound significance in Cuban Catholicism, particularly given the history of religious suppression following the nation’s turn to atheism after the 1959 revolution. While Cuba transitioned into a secular state in the early 1990s, there has been a gradual increase in religious tolerance over the past twenty-five years.

However, the Vatican-recognized Virgin, revered by Catholics and practitioners of Afro-Cuban Santeria traditions alike, transcends mere religious symbolism. She embodies the essence of Cuban identity, bridging divides between compatriots on the Communist-governed island and those who were exiled or migrated to the U.S.

“The Virgin is deeply woven into our cultural fabric,” remarked Reverend Rogelio Puerta, the parish priest of the basilica, who has also conducted Mass at the sister shrine in Miami. “You cannot discuss Cuba without mentioning the Virgin of Charity.”

A replica of the Virgin was clandestinely transported to Miami by exiles six decades ago, leading to the construction of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Charity just south of downtown. Despite enduring political schisms among Cubans, she remains a potent symbol of unity.

Affectionately known as “Cachita,” the Virgin is immortalized in tattoos, street murals, and various forms of artwork across the island. She is venerated in humble home altars, songs, and, prominently, at her shrine approximately 500 miles east of Havana.

The offerings left at the shrine form a mosaic of gratitude and supplication: diplomas, crutches, stethoscopes, handwritten notes, infant clothing, military emblems, and more. Notable visitors have left behind cherished memorabilia, including baseball jerseys, Olympic medals, and literary awards.

Even figures of political prominence have paid homage. Fidel and Raul Castro’s mother left a miniature golden figurine of a guerrilla fighter during the revolution against Fulgencio Batista. Additionally, Ernest Hemingway, during his time in Cuba, placed a replica of his 1954 Nobel Prize for Literature at the Virgin’s feet, expressing gratitude for inspiring his literary works.

Over centuries, the Virgin of Charity has evolved into a symbol of national pride. She served as a source of solace for wounded soldiers during Cuba’s struggle for independence from Spain, prompting veterans to petition the Vatican for her designation as Cuba’s patron saint.

“She emerged as a unifying national symbol,” remarked Michelle Maldonado, an authority on the Virgin of Charity and provost at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania.

The cult of the Virgin of Charity became intertwined with Cuban nationalism in the late 19th century. Within the Miami Cuban diaspora, she holds profound political significance, serving as a rebuke to the Cuban government’s history of religious oppression, as noted by Jorge Duany, director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University.

Many early devotees of Our Lady of Charity fled or were expelled by the Castro regime, finding refuge in Florida, often arriving on makeshift rafts similar to the one depicted behind the Virgin’s statue in the Miami shrine’s mural.

Contemplating the vast ocean separating him from his homeland, Reverend Angel Andrés González, vicar of the Miami shrine, perceives the Virgin as “the thread connecting” his life.

“It’s as if the heart of Cuba beats here in the United States,” he reflected.

For González and numerous Cuban exiles, devotion to the Virgin precedes their Catholic faith and serves as an anchor in their American lives.

Though raised in a predominantly non-religious household, González’s mother instilled in him a tradition of reciting Hail Marys during thunderstorms before an image of the Virgin. This tradition, established since his baptism at the Cobre sanctuary, remains integral to his life.

La Ermita, as the Miami shrine is affectionately known, welcomes both long-standing residents who view the church as a symbol of resistance against the Cuban government and recent arrivals seeking solace in familiar surroundings.

At Ash Wednesday observances marking the start of Lent, political refugees and Santeria practitioners alike bring their petitions to the Miami Virgin, who, as a mother, offers solace to all her children, as Sister Inés Espinoza assures visitors.

Hailing from Havana, Sister Inés and her fellow Daughters of Charity, expelled from Cuba in 1972, minister to the needs of a burgeoning migrant population from across Latin America, including Cuba. In recent years, U.S. authorities have encountered over half a million Cuban migrants.

During an Ash Wednesday Mass, amidst the recitation of faithful prayers, Rafael Madlum Payas, a political refugee, boldly voiced a plea for freedom in Cuba.

Having sought refuge in the United States nearly two decades ago, Payas finds solace in La Ermita, believing that “the Virgin is with us wherever we go.”

This sentiment resonates with Yenise Hoyos, a Santeria devotee, who arrived at La Ermita during the same Mass, carrying an image of her Yoruba deity, whom she regards as a “sister” to the Virgin.

“Your essence, your culture, your religion never fade, no matter where you are,” reflected Hoyos, who arrived from Cuba four years ago. “There’s an incredible sense of peace here.”

To clergy members, the Virgin ensures that the Miami shrine remains a beacon of hope for migrants. Reverend José Espino, the rector, selected the theme of welcoming strangers for this Lenten season, echoing the Biblical injunction.

“This shrine is always a place of gratitude to the Virgin for safe passage,” affirmed Reverend Espino. “She has always accompanied the aspirations of the Cuban people.”

Show More

Related Articles

Back to top button