Photo: Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre festivities
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.”
At the procession before the Mass were members of the Ladies in White dissident group, but Efe did not learn of any incident involving them, in contrast to the 2011 procession when a group of people were arrested for shouting slogans calling for the release of the regime’s political prisoners.
State media reported Saturday that two historical sites located on the route covered by the image of the patron saint from where it was found on Nipe Bay to the El Cobre sanctuary were declared National Monuments.
The Virgin of Charity, or “Cachita,” as it is popularly called on the island, is also known as the Virgen Mambisa because Cuban independence fighters - known as “Mambises” - venerated it during their uprising against Spanish colonialism in the late 1800s.
Santeria and other Afro-Cuban cults associate the Virgin of Charity with Oshun, a deity of the Yoruba cult that represents fresh water, love, fertility and feminine sensuality.
In 1612, according to the legend, three salt collectors found the wooden image of the saint floating in the waters of Nipe Bay along with a board that read: “I am the Virgin of Charity.”
Between August 2010 and December 2011, the Virgin’s image was taken on a tour of 30,000 kilometers (18,600 miles) around the island and millions of Cubans turned out to witness its passage, the first pilgrimage on which Catholic Church authorities had taken the decorated wooden statue since the 1959 communist revolution.
Cuban exiles in Miami, meanwhile, marked the feast day with a religious ceremony and concert at which several local musical performers participated.