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The image of the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre, Patroness of Cuba, began a pilgrimage on August 2010 having crisscrossed the entire island since then. In every province, people have anxiously awaited for its arrival to show their devotion to the Virgin of Charity.
During its tour in Havana, the relic of the Virgin has been displayed in more than 300 public sites, such as schools, hospitals, universities, prisons, squares and even parks. The image of the Virgin arrived at the Father Reginaldo Park in the Vedado district of Havana on the afternoon of December 29, 2011. Many waited for her since early morning. The relic stayed overnight at Our Lady of the Rosary Parrish Church right in front of the park, where the mass was held the following evening. The park was filled with people and the mass was characterized by a great discipline and organization.
The statue, encased in a clear glass box, was dressed in white and gold. Her bright eyes and hair seemed to make her more real. The people showed their devotion by praying at her feet for health, spiritual beauty, prosperity, love, peace, for a child… Some exclaimed words of praise, others cried in silence overwhelmed by emotion. Many others surrounded her with white and yellow flowers and a few sprinkled perfume into the air. Mothers approached her with their babies in their arms full of hope and faith. The relic of the Virgin is in itself the image of force and calm, it is the Mother that has come to spread words of joy and love and strength to those who consider themselves her children.
The Marian cult is deeply-rooted in Latin America. People venerate the image of the Virgin Mary in all its interpretations, in their own likeness and idiosyncrasies. Thus, for instance, Our Lady of Guadalupe is venerated in Mexico and Our Lady of Carmen in Chile just as Our Lady of Charity is venerated in Cuba.
The image of the Virgin that is now revered was found by two natives and a black boy called Juan Moreno around 1612-1613. This is part of the declaration made by Juan Moreno, in which he explained the encounter with the image:
“… Being in Key Francés, in the middle of the Bay of Nipe, to go to a saline in good weather conditions, being the sea quite calm, one morning, Juan and Rodrigo de Hoyos and this declarant, left Key Francés in a boat to go to the saline before daybreak. Being far from the Key, they saw something white on the sea surf; they could not distinguish what it might be, and approaching it, they thought it was a bird and dry branches. The natives said, ‘It seems to be a little girl,’ and in this debate, they got closer and saw the image of Our Lady, the Blessed Virgin with the Baby Jesus in her arms, over a small piece of wood. On the wood, there were big letters which Rodrigo de Hoyos read: ‘I am the Virgin of Charity.’ and were amazed that her garments were not wet.”
This is the origin of the cult to the Virgin of Charity, whose image has resided in several small shrines before being placed at the present Sanctuary in El Cobre in eastern Cuba. The relic has left the Basilica in 1936, 1952, 1959 and 1998 when Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, Patroness of Cuba, was officially crowned by the Holy Father, John Paul II at a solemn mass at the primate Archdiocese of Havana.
The image has changed in accordance with the evolution of its history and its diverse interpretations. Thus, she appears in different ways but is always beautiful. Sometimes she is very white, at other times she is mestiza with very black hair and criollo features. She is present in Catholic churches as well as in humble altars as the queen of homes. She was the guiding light during the Cuban wars of independence.
Every morning, around 500 people attend mass at the Sanctuary of El Cobre, which was built in 1927 on the open copper mines. People from other lands also visit the Sanctuary. Many miracles have been attributed to the Virgin of Charity by her devotees and as a token of their gratitude, a wall filled with offerings from grateful worshippers rises at the Chapel of Miracles—necklaces, braids, clothes, photographs, jewels of gold and precious stones, umbilical cords… In 1954, Ernest Hemingway offered the Virgin the Nobel Prize for Literature he was awarded that year.
On the afternoon of December 30, 2011, around 3,000 people gathered along the Bay of Havana for the mass that ended the 16-month pilgrimage of the relic of the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre, in part as a prelude to the visit by Pope Benedict XVI that is expected to take place in March 2012 to mark the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the statue.