With the Apostolic Journey of Pope Francis to Cuba over the last couple of days, I thought I would reflect on part of Pope St. John Paul II’s Apostolic Journey that he made to Cuba in January 1998 for today’s “Mondays with Mary.” Before sharing you with the words of John Paul II in regards to Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, the official patroness of Cuba, let’s first understand why she is the patroness.
Sometime in the year 1608, Rodrigo and Juan de Hoyos, two brothers, as well as a young slave by the name of Juan Moreno, left Santiago de Prado (now modern day El Cobre) in a small boat to seek out salt in order that the copper miners might preserve their meat. As they traveled across the Bay of Nipe, they had to put in to the shore for a strong storm had come upon them. As they awoke the next morning, they noticed a small white bundle floating across the bay towards them. After grabbing the bundle and opening it, they found out that the bundle was a statue of Our Lady, which was attached to a board. It was totally dry and had an inscription that read – I am the Virgin of Charity. Immediately, a shrine was built near the site and it soon became a destination for pilgrimages to Our Lady.
The statue of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre is about 16 inches in height. Baked clay, which is covered with a shiny coat of fine white powder, makes up the head. Our Lady stands on the moon with silver clouds on either end. Three golden-winged cherub angels are beneath the moon and silver clouds. In her left arm, Our Lady holds onto the Child Jesus, and in her right hand, she holds a golden crucifix. Originally, the robes on the image were white in color. Her newer robes are embroidered with gold and silver, which also includes the national shield of Cuba. Her body is hidden and the statue comes across has having a triangular shape.
In 1916, Pope Benedict XV, at the appeal of the veterans of the War of Independence, professed Our Lady of Charity the patroness of Cuba. In 1936, at the Eucharist Congress in Santiago de Cuba, the image was crowned solemnly. In 1977, Blessed Pope Paul VI raised the shrine sanctuary to a Minor Basilica. During Pope St. John Paul II’s Apostolic Trip in 1998, he solemnly crowned her again. Pope Francis on his Apostolic Trip also visited the shrine. In his homily he said, “Generation after generation, day after day, we are asked to renew our faith. We are asked to live the revolution of tenderness as Mary, our Mother of Charity, did…Like Mary, Mother of Charity, we want to be a Church which goes forth to build bridges, to break down walls, to sow seeds of reconciliation.”
On January 24, 1998, Pope St. John Paul II celebrated the Sacred Mass at Santiago de Cuba. In his homily, the Polish Saint said the following about Our Lady of Charity,
“During this celebration we will crown the image of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre. From her shrine, not far from here, the Queen and Mother of all Cubans — regardless of race, political allegiance or ideology — guides and sustains, as in times past, the steps of her sons and daughters towards our heavenly homeland, and she encourages them to live in such a way that in society those authentic moral values may reign which constitute the rich spiritual heritage received from your forebears. With gratitude, we turn to her, as did her cousin Elizabeth, and say: “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord” (Lk 1:45). In these words lies the secret of the true happiness of individuals and peoples: to believe and proclaim that the Lord has done marvellous things for us and that his mercy is from generation to generation on those who are faithful to him. This conviction is the force which inspires men and women to commit themselves selflessly, even at the cost of sacrifice, to the service of others.
Mary’s example of readiness to serve shows us the path to take. With her, the Church fulfils her own vocation and mission, proclaiming Jesus Christ and exhorting us to do what he says, building a universal brotherhood in which every person can call God “Father”.”
During the Angelus on January 25, 1998, Pope St. John Paul II again invoked Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre and said,
“May the maternal presence of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, Queen and Patroness of Cuba, be close to every son and daughter of this land. To her, who has visited all the Dioceses and parishes, I entrust the aspirations and hopes of this noble people. I pray that she will inspire and protect the work of the new evangelization, so that Christians may live their faith with decision and fervour, and that those who have strayed may return to its practice. May Cuba live in peace and prosperity!
Virgin Mary, Mother of individual people and of whole nations! Before I return to Rome and to the tomb of St Peter, I entrust to you once more your Cuban sons and daughters! I leave here confident that they are in your maternal heart. I ask you now to show them “Jesus, the blessed fruit of your womb”. Always keep your compassionate eyes on them. Through your intercession before our divine Redeemer, keep them from all harm and fill them with love of you.”
Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, pray for the Cuban people, and for all of us.