By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic Staff – September 15, 2017
More than 100 faithful came in the pouring rain to gather and pray the rosary, then celebrate a Mass in honor of Our Lady of Charity, the patroness of Cuba. The Mass, which has been celebrated in the Diocese of Orlando since 1973, came just two days before Hurricane Irma swept through Orlando.
With the musical sounds of the St. James Cathedral Choir lingering in the air, the statue of La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre (as she is known in Cuba) was processed down the aisle of St. Augustine Parish in Casselberry on Sept. 8, her feast day, to a place of honor before the sanctuary. The statue used for this year’s procession belonged to Father Tomás Hurtado, pastor of St. Augustine and a Cuban immigrant. Parishioners filled the church, praying for their patroness’s intercession and remembering how Our Lady of Charity appeared to three fishermen off the coast of Cuba around 1600. Since then, she has been a sign of hope for Cubans.
The tradition of celebrating the feast day was begun in the diocese by Father Domingo Gonzalez, a Cuban native who served as director of the Spanish Apostolate in 1973. He said the Virgin is “a mother common to the hearts of all Cubans, the living symbol of cultural, traditional and national unity both in and outside of Cuba.”
Maria del Carmen García is one of many who want to keep the tradition alive. She helped organize the event this year and has taken part for the past 35 years. She said, “It is important for Cubans because it gives them a chance to recognize their patroness, pray for Cuba and its needs, and to maintain unity.” They also collect a donation for charity. This year’s donation will be sent to help those recovering in Cuba after Hurricane Irma. “Here we can gather, converse and share,” she said. “It was great to see people from so many countries, not just Cubans.” A Columbian friend even donated prayer cards for those attending.
Over the years, the Mass has taken place in several parishes. Annunciation Parish member Maria Consuela Espinola came with her husband Arturo. She said, “The Mass is usually more elaborate. We normally gather afterwards, but it was complicated due to the hurricane.” The Espinolas had not attended for several years due to work conflicts. Now that Dr. Espinola is retired, she said they look forward to attending for many years to come.