CASSELBERRY | “Si nosotros los hondureños, Salimos de nuestra nación, Llevamos tu nombre grabado muy dentro del corazón.” So goes the song to Our Lady of Suyapa sung by the St. Augustine Parish community after Mass Feb. 9. Parishioners commemorated the feast day of the Honduran patroness. For the few Honduran parishioners, the song’s lyrics, “If we Hondurans leave our country, we carry you engraved in our hearts,” speaks of their undying devotion and love of the Virgin Mary.
Each year, more than one million faithful gather to honor the Virgin of Suyapa at the Basílica de la Virgen de Suyapa, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. In Casselberry, St. Augustine parishioners also assembled to celebrate their heritage, friendships and remember their faithful patroness. Despite its small size, the fervor of the Honduran community was on display in commemoration of the Virgin’s feast day (Feb. 3). It is a tradition dating back 17 years.
In 2003, Ofelia Molina and Veronica Mejia asked if they could celebrate the Virgin’s feast day at the parish. The pastor at the time agreed and a handful of Hondurans gathered to pray the Rosary in name of their Patroness. After Mejia moved away, Molina continued the tradition. “Although there are only three Honduran parishioners at our parish, our family and fellow Hondurans in the area come. Our community also joins us. They say, ‘Today we are Honduran,’” Molina noted with a joyous laugh.
Molina arrived from Honduras 35 years ago and was raised in the capital (Tegucigalpa), only 30 minutes from the village of Suyapa where the small statue resides. “I remember going to the basilica,” she said. “As a student, my friends and I would pray to the Virgin to help us with our exams. After completing them, we would walk in pilgrimage there to give her our gratitude.” She also recalls the large crowds traveling to the basilica for her feast day, Feb. 3.
The Virgin’s story originates in 1747, when a local peasant, Alejandro Colindres, returned from a day of harvesting corn.
Returning to Suyapa, he stopped for the night alongside the road. Laying down he felt what he thought was a stone. It is said he hurled it a distance, but when he laid down again, there it was—not a stone, but the image of Our Lady carved onto a small piece of cedar wood less than 3” tall. She wore a light pink robe and dark cloak with stars and jewels. For the following 20 years, the image stood on an altar at Colindres’ home, and villagers would pray to her. Eventually, there were reports of miracles. After recovering from a painful kidney stone, Captain Joseph de Celaya built her a chapel, which cemented the devotion. Pope Pius XI declared her Patroness of Honduras in 1925. Soldiers claimed visions of the Virgin calmed them during the 100 Hours War in 1969.
Placed on a pillar to the right of the altar at Mass at St. Augustine Parish, Our Lady was remembered through song and prayer, and later the sharing of food and fellowship. This year an estimated 60 people came from surrounding parishes to partake in the celebration. Molina handed out flyers with information about the Virgin, in the hopes it would perpetuate knowledge and devotion.
“For me, she increases my devotion because she is the great intercessor before Our Lord. It brings me great joy to bring this tradition of my country to the United States, to our parish. It is important to remember our roots. It fills me with emotion.”
By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic February 21, 2020