The Virgin of Charity of Cobre / Dimas Castellanos

After a mass at her shrine by the Bishop of Santiago de Cuba, the Virgin of Charity of Cobre began on 8 August a pilgrimage across the country, with a message of dialogue and reconciliation, which will run until 10 December 2011.

The precession, commemorating the 400th anniversary of her appearance in Cuban water, coincides with a profound structural crisis provoked by the failure of the totalitarianism that monopolizes the politics, economy, and communication media, and eliminates civil society and independent civic spaces, generating a series of losses reflected in the despair, apathy, generalized corruption and the exodus; its repair requires a huge dose of spirituality. In this context the pilgrimage of the patroness of Cuba begins, through all the towns and cities of Cuba, with a message of freedom and love, two concepts which represented a turning point with Christianity, and without which it would be impossible to overcome the current crisis.

Freedom, the birthright of man, establishes that the inner conscience of human work is the freedom granted by God. Love, understood as a relationship that abandons the narrow context of only the Jewish people to include all men and all peoples, becomes an instrument of transformation to create a community where all men are brothers. So, live, the first condition of the concept of Christianity, stands as the highest form of free will, while its infrastructure is freedom.

The worship of Mary had earlier manifestations in Cuba but with the appearance of the image of the Virgin of Charity, floating in the waters of Nipe Bay — found by two aborigines and a black man — which was identified as Mary by the Spaniards, as Atabey by the aborigines, or as Oshun by the natives of Africa, deities associated with water, the sea, the moon and motherhood, which represent the universalization of love. Attributes that, from its appearance, turned it into the most Cuban of the Mary devotionals and part of our country’s history as evidenced by the following facts:

In the mines of Cobre de Santiago del Prado, site of the Shrine of Charity, history locates the first mass rebellion against slavery and the first liberation of the slaves. In 1731, due to mistreatment, the slaves in the mines in the surrounding mountains rose up to defend their freedom. In this conflict, Pedro Agustín Morell de Santa Cruz, a leading figure of the Catholic Church, not only acted as a mediator between the Governor and the rebellious slaves, but sided with the latter. Seventy years later, copper miners, led by Father Alejandro Ascanio, gained their freedom by royal decree, which was read before the Virgin, 19 May 1801.

Carlos Manuel Céspedes, on taking the city of Bayamo on October 20, 1868, celebrated a solemn mass in honor of the Virgin, putting his revolutionary army under her protection and in November of the same year he went to her Shrine to present her his arms and honor and to ask her in her position as Queen and Mother of Cubans, for the freedom of Cuba.

In the war diary of Ignacio Mora, one of the patriots of Camagüey who rose in November 1868, he wrote on September 8, 1872: “The fiesta of the Virgin of Charity of a delirium for him (the people). Without eating, they dedicate these days to looking for wax to have a mambí-style fiesta, that it they light many candles and assume that the image of the Virgin is present. On all the farms there is not a single cooking fire, only candles lit for the Virgin of Charity!”

General Antonio Maceo, who during the war would wear an insignia with the image of the Virgin, once told his men: “We must all give thanks to the Virgin of Charity of Cobre, because she is also fighting in the jungle.”

At the conclusion of the War of Independence, representatives of the Liberation Army were excluded from the signing of surrender, which is why the General Calixto Garcia ordered his General Staff, with General Agustín Cebreco at the front, to advance to the Shrine to celebrate the triumph of Cuba over Spain in a solemn Mass with a Te Deum at the foot of the statue of the Virgin, a fact regarded as the Mambisa Declaration of Independence of the Cuban people.

In September 1915, a group of veterans of the War of Independence led by Major General Jesús Rabí, asked Pope Benedict XV to name the Patroness of Cuba and September 8 as the date of her celebration. The petition argued: “…(because) in the heat of the battles and major events of life when death was closer or we were nearer to despair, there was always a light dissipating any danger, or consoling water sprinkling for our souls, the vision par excellence of this Cuban Virgin, Cuban by origin and by secular devotion and Cuban because… having proclaimed our soldiers, all of them praying to her for victory, and for the peace of our unforgotten dead.” The request was granted by papal bull.

Fermín Valdés Domínguez, a close friend of José Martí, said: “The miraculous Cuban Virgin of Charity is a saint who deserves my respect because she is a symbol of our glorious war.”

For these reasons in December 1936, by delegation of Pope Pius XI, the Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba, Bishop Valentín Zubizarreta, crowned the statue of Our Lady of Charity of Cobre facing Santiago Bay. Between 1951 and 1952, as part of the fiftieth anniversary of the Republic, the Virgin made her first pilgrimage around the island. In November 1959 her image was moved to Havana and placed on the altar of the José Martí Plaza to celebrate the mass of the closing of the National Catholic Congress. In 1977, Pope Paul VI elevated the National Shrine of Our Lady of Charity to the dignity of a Basilica. In 1998, Pope John Paul II crowned the Virgin of Charity of Cobre a second time, where he said: “From her sanctuary, not far from here, the Queen and Mother of all Cubans — without distinction of race, political opinion or ideology — guides and sustains, as in the past, the steps her children to the heavenly realm and encourages them to live in a such a way that authentic moral values will always reign supreme in society, which is the rich spiritual legacy inherited from our elders.

With a historical and divine foundation, the Virgin of Charity of Cobre is an enormously valuable spiritual force in our history. Like a supporter for a phenomenon as painful as childbirth, her presence is significant at the moment of delivery. For all these qualities, for the fact that she is Cuban, that is for her identity with and belonging to the culture of Cuba, the image of Mary personified in the Virgin of Charity of Cobre, is with is, speaks to us, unites us and fills us with the strength that emanates from faith and from hope, love and freedom. Hence, the relevance of this pilgrimage in this critical moment of our nation’s life.

September 9, 2010