Anniversary celebration for Cuba's patroness 'a dream,' says priest

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MIAMI - Celebrating the 400th anniversary of the patroness of Cuba and the Cuban people, Our Lady Charity of El Cobre, was "a dream," said an emotional Father Juan Rumin Dominguez.

"A year ago, I thought that we should celebrate the 400th anniversary with great joy and plenty of participation from the people. And I am seeing that become reality. Because she is the queen of her people," said the priest, who is rector of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Charity in the Miami Archdiocese.

The celebration marking 400 years of her presence among the Cuban people - both in Cuba and in exile - began with a maritime procession from the shrine on Biscayne Bay to the American Airlines Arena, where nearly 9,000 people gathered for the Mass celebrated Sept. 10 by Miami Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski, joined by retired Archbishop John C. Favalora and dozens of priests.

Mary's queenship was confirmed symbolically when Archbishop Wenski crowned the image of venerated at the Miami shrine, first placing a crown on the head of the child Jesus she carries in her arms, then another on his mother.

By means of that rite, according to the program published by the shrine, the Catholic Church "reaffirms that Holy Mary is queen by virtue of being mother of the Son of God and messianic king; mother of Christ, the word made flesh; his collaborator in the work of redemption; his most perfect disciple and the pre-eminent member of the church."

During his 1988 trip to Cuba, Pope John Paul II crowned the original image of the Virgin of Charity, the one found floating - and miraculously dry - by three young peasants on the Bay of Nipe, off Cuba's coast, in 1612. That image is the same one still venerated in the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity in El Cobre, Cuba.

In March of this year, Pope Benedict XVI placed at her feet a golden rose, a sacramental that dates back to 1049, and is granted to pre-eminent Catholics, originally queens.

The image at the Miami shrine is a reproduction of that original. It arrived in Miami in 1961, as Archbishop Wenski said, "hidden in a suitcase, coming from an embassy, like any other refugee."

"Holy Mary, Our Lady of Charity, is the faithful and confident mother who has guided her children, who in great numbers have had to leave for other lands seeking liberty, and has protected them through the difficult ways of exile," Archbishop Wenski said in his homily. "With them, she has traveled to the farthest corners of the world and her children, with gratefulness and love, have extended their devotion to her wherever they have made their home."

Dennis Aguinaga, of St. John Bosco Parish in Miami, also attended the celebration along with a large number of fellow parishioners, even though he was born in Nicaragua. He told the Florida Catholic, newspaper of the Miami Archdiocese, that he was present "to honor our mother, our Virgin Mary, who is mother of all of us, venerating her today as Our Lady of Charity."

Aguinaga was carrying a large portrait of the late Miami Auxiliary Bishop Augustin Roman, who spearheaded the construction of the shrine and for nearly 40 years served as its rector. He also was the spiritual father and guide of Cuba exiles. This was the first year since 1966 that he was not present for the annual celebration. He died in April.

Devotion to Our Lady of Charity is inextricably linked to patriotism in Cuba, since the so-called "Mambises" invoked her help in their fight for independence from Spain. Archbishop Wenski alluded to this link in his homily.

"Today among us are many who have lost hope and think their prayers for freedom in their homeland appear not to have been answered," he said. "The virgin invites us once more to hope, to trust in God's time, in the infinite and providential wisdom of the Father of all and Lord of history. The great temptation, the worst temptation, is not to trust in God. ... It is to that trust and hope that Mary, Our Lady of Charity, calls us today."

He said the Cuban people "long for freedom in their homeland, and they can never lose hope that the deeply-desired moment will soon come. In this goal, we are motivated by the Mambisa Virgin: the free woman who wants to invite us ... to be free in spirit, because the chains cannot fall from our hands unless they first fall from our hearts."

Rodriguez-Soto is editor of the Miami archdiocesan edition of the Florida Catholic.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 1970