Feast days of Our Lady are always important moments to consider our true homeland in heaven and our roots here on earth. As the venerable hymn puts it, “And bless, Holy Mary, the land of our birth.” Today is a great and joyful celebration, the Nativity of Mary, one of the very few saints who have a feast day on the day of their birth. For Cubans and Cuban-Americans it is also the feast day of Our Lady of Charity, patroness of the Cuban people; the watchful guardian of those on the Island and those in exile.
On the eve of today’s feast each year there is a vigil with presentations by musicians and artists at the Ermita de La Cardidad on Biscayne Bay in Miami. This is the spiritual heart of the Cuban community in exile in America. For those able to attend it is a joyful and festive event. This year’s performers included Marisela Verena, Albita Rodríguez, Los Tres de La Habana, Amaury Gutiérrez, Carlos Oliva, Roberto Torres and others. Albita did a rousing rendition the song, “Yo soy el punto cubano” in which participants joined her enthusiastically.
Presented below is the beloved Msgr. Roman, pastor of the exiles in the 1960s and in the post-Mariel era, with a look at the history of devotion to Our Lady of Charity. Msgr. Roman built the national sanctuary housing the statue of Our Lady of Charity, which he had brought from Cuba, by begging for “kilos prietos,” tarnished pennies, from the impoverished exiles. He is a person whom this website owes a sincere debt of gratitude to. When the U.S. government faced riots in the detention camps following the Mariel boat lift, it was Msgr. Roman who was called in to restore peace, something he posses personally in abundance. When some called him a hero his simple reply was, “A bishop, a priest, is a servant, not a hero.”
As the following video shows, there is a strong emotional connect with the image of Our Lady of Charity rescued from the sea by the “three Juans” over 300 years ago. As the American Notebook’s resident Mambista (Cuban soldiers in the war of independence were called Mambi) has put it, “Watching the little video at the Ermita website and finally made the connection with the 3 Juans and boat and Our Lady of Charity. Boats and boat people. Like the prophetic Our Lady of Guadalupe being pregnant and speaking to both the Aztec and Mayan slaughter and today’s abortion culture of death. Aha, I get it now.”
Tonight a procession from Miami to Coral Gables will culminate in a solemn Mass at the Bank United Center at the University of Miami, which will be broadcast on Radio Paz . For some, after more than fifty years, or for others who came in a later wave of migration, the exile from their homeland has often been traumatic, but the opportunities in America have been great. Through this period of trial, as with the Israelites forty years in the desert, Heaven has been clearly working to its own purpose in forming the Cuban destiny. All things work for good for those who love the Lord.
Here is a look at thousands of other Juans!
Here is Albita Rodríguez, on the right, singing on TV in 2009.