Cubans get set to mark patron saint's anniversary
Preparations are beginning to honor the 50th anniversary of a historic celebration in Miami of Cuba's patron saint.
BY DANIEL SHOER ROTH
On Sept. 8, 1961, 30,000 exiled Cubans crowded Miami Stadium to attend their first celebration outside of Cuba to honor the nation's patron saint, the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre.
The parishioners were in for a great surprise -- the arrival, on that same day, of a famous image of the patron saint from their homeland.
``This symbol helped them relive their motherland's history with all its joys and sorrows,'' said Monsignor Agustín Román, chaplain emeritus of the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity, also known as Ermita de la Caridad in Miami. ``The exiled community received the sign of love that would unite them in the future.''
A novena to the Virgin -- nine consecutive days of prayer -- begins Monday, culminating with the start of yearlong festivities to honor that 1961 event. It will be celebrated during the 2011-2012 Jubilee Year, when many Cubans everywhere will celebrate four centuries of the Virgin's first apparition in Cuba's northeast seas.
The parish, which has 57,000 members, plans an active program of evangelization during the year with the goal of reaching every believer.
The program is called ``Family Night'' and aims to unite families in prayer and joy.
``Since charity is love, the parish wants to begin waking up love within the family,'' said Román, 82. ``In the current environment, families do not have the time to communicate or know each other; they are strangers living in the same house.''
In this fraternal spirit, the Jubilee Year will be celebrated in Miami from Sept. 8, 2011, to Sept. 8, 2012.
After the apparition of the image in the 17th century, faith in the Virgin spread rapidly throughout the island, even though communication then was very limited. In 1916, Pope Benedict XV proclaimed Cuba's patron saint in response to the request of hundreds of veterans who had fought for the country's independence.
With the Virgin's arrival to the exile community, devotions to the saint began to increase among the parishioners of the Archdiocese of Miami, under the sponsorship then of Archbishop Coleman Carroll. That eventually led to the construction of the Ermita, a national sanctuary next to Biscayne Bay that attracts a half-million faithful every year.
Iraida Yocham-Añorga, a Cuban gospel singer, attended the Sunday evening Mass at the Ermita, which has a majestic mural of the Virgin's image, together with Cuba's patriotic symbols, Cuban historic heroes and remembrances of the island's geography.
She was expected to sing and register for the novena, which will end at 7 p.m. Sept. 8 with the Festivity of the Virgin at the BankUnited Center at the University of Miami.
``The Virgin's image is a Cuban symbol of the motherland, which helps us unite us to our people in intercession before God,'' Yocham-Añorga, 66, one of the organizers of the vigil, said before the festivity. The ceremony will include a serenade of songs and poetry.
Following tradition, the event will end at midnight with the entrance of mariachis singing to the saint.
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