The pilgrim image of Our Lady of Charity is outlined against the Miami sky as she makes her way through Biscayne Bay blessing the city and its residents. (Photo: miamiarch.org)
Even as the coronavirus pandemic limited attendance in churches, Cubans on the island and abroad packed churches and a shrine, from Miami to El Cobre, Cuba, for the Sept. 8 feast day of Our Lady of Charity.
Bishops told Massgoers to seek refuge in Cuba's patron saint during this turbulent time.
Mary's mission is to accompany her spiritual children in this world, providing protection and help "in the worst and most difficult situations that we have to live through," said Miami Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski, celebrating the Mass this year at St. Michael the Archangel Church, instead of at a shrine in Miami dedicated to Our Lady of Charity, a move to limit attendance for the popular feast.
Those who attended had to get tickets in advance, but the Mass, just as the one in El Cobre, Cuba, celebrated on the Cuban Madonna's feast day, was livestreamed via YouTube. El Cobre, which means copper, is near the main port city of Santiago and is home to a basilica dedicated to what is Cuba's most venerated spiritual image.
Archbishop Wenski asked for Our Lady of Charity's intercession in dealing with the current tribulations in the U.S.: the pandemic, the economic downturn it has caused, the social unrest, and the "ideological extremism that reminds many of the totalitarian experience" they experienced in their homelands and one that sent them seeking "refuge in land of liberty."
Our Lady of Charity hasn't just accompanied Cubans but also "thousands of faithful" from Venezuela, Nicaragua, Colombia, from every corner of Latin America in illness, health, successes and failures, during times of nostalgia, Archbishop Wenski said during the Mass in Spanish.
Some 500 miles and a country away, in the mining town of El Cobre, Archbishop Dionisio Guillermo García Ibanez of the nearby port city of Santiago de Cuba, spoke during his homily of the unity and solidarity Our Lady of Charity inspires.
"It doesn't matter where we come from or whether we live abroad. ... The race or economic status of a person doesn't matter, nor what they may think, because we're all Cubans when come seeking" Our Lady of Charity, he said.
"In her, there's a cultural mystery," he said, and a unifying one.
That's why when U.S. writer Ernest Hemingway, who lived in Cuba and was enamored with the country, decided to give his medal to the island after winning the Nobel Prize for literature in 1954, he chose to leave it at the Cuban Madonna's shrine in El Cobre.
"In her, we discover the best about our people," the archbishop said, urging those who were able to be present at the shrine for the feast, "don't just ask for your personal petitions," but "ask for Cuba."
"In this difficult time ... for our people, for the world that is suffering, I like to seek the Virgin Mary who is with us the way she was with her son on the cross," the prelate added. "She is with us always to give us hope, to tell us that we can achieve anything with the effort of all."
In a call to unity, he asked for kinship among all.
"No Cuban is worth more than another," he said. "Don't let anyone feel marginalized, let us all be brothers and sisters and respect one another," he said.
In Miami, Archbishop Wenski called for fidelity to follow God's plan, to keep the words of God alive, especially to be with the poor with those who suffer persecution.
"Let us remember the battle for the liberty of Cuba is above all spiritual," he said. "The chains on your hands can't break free if the chains around the heart haven't broken free."