It feels Providential that in the midst of Irma's fury, the church invites us to turn today to this "Caridad" who calmed the waters
Today, September 8 – Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary – Cubans everywhere celebrate La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre. Mary as Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre is, in a special way, an advocate for all who feel displaced, far from home, or living in exile.
With millions of Americans in many states suddenly facing evacuation and displacement due to hurricanes Harvey and Irma (with Jose and Katia threatening behind them) perhaps this patroness of Cuba will speak to the millions of my fellow Americans who are facing evacuation. Turn to this gentle and protective mother, whose appearance 400 years ago should inspire hope.
The image of Our Lady of Charity reflects the story of the “Three Juans” – two Native American brothers, Rodrigo and Juan de Hoyos and a very young African slave. Around 1612, as a storm arose in the Bay of Nipe, the three young men began to petition Mary for her protection. As they prayed the skies suddenly cleared. In the water, floating near their small boat they discovered a statue of the Virgin Mary, holding the Infant Jesus in her arms, and a gold cross in one hand. The statue was fastened to a board on which was the inscription, Yo Soy la Virgen de la Caridad or “I am the Virgin of Charity.”
Caridad, as she is known, wants nothing more than to gather her children together and bring them to her son, Jesus. She holds the Child Jesus in her arms, close to her heart, and we are reminded that she is mother to us all because she is mother to the One.
As a child, my mom often whispered into my ear as she hugged and kissed me goodbye, “Que la virgen te acompañe.” No matter how old I get, and how far away I live, I can count on my mom’s blessing before I travel. Instead of a whispered caress, today I get a text message, “May Our Lady accompany you.”
This gentle reminder that Our Lady would accompany me on my journey, to my child’s mind, was just one of those things moms said. As adults, though, the knowledge that Mary does indeed accompany us should buoy us when we are living through our own “Bay of Nipe” either as a nation, or in our individual lives. Consoling and calm, Caridad stands as a beacon, always calling us to safety, showing us the way home, which is to her Son.
During his 2015 visit to Cuba, Pope Francis, speaking at the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, called on us to place our trust in this Blessed Mother as we are pulled out of our comfortable places:
Mary is venerated as the Mother of Charity. From here she protects our roots, our identity, so that we may never stray to paths of despair. … This is our most valuable treasure, this is our greatest wealth and the best legacy we can give: To learn like Mary to leave home and set out on the path of visitation. And to learn to pray with Mary, for her prayer is one of remembrance and gratitude; it is the canticle of the People of God on their pilgrimage through history.
As I write this, we are seeing images of the devastation which Hurricane Harvey has visited upon Texas, and the wholesale destruction of many small islands in the Caribbean, thanks to Hurricane Irma. People have been left with nothing; electricity and water are not available in Puerto Rico and may not be for a while. Cuba will be visited by Irma, and then the entire peninsula of Florida, and states beyond, will feel her fury.
It feels providential that in the midst of all this, the church invites us to turn today to Mary, Our Lady of Charity — who calmed a storm very near where Irma currently spins — and say to her in faith, “Oh virgencita, watch over your children in harm’s way. You calmed the waters once before, come to our aid today.”
Que la virgen te acompañe.