Our Lady of Charity of Cobre, Cuba, is the patroness of the island nation. Her sanctuary is 27 kilometers from the city of Santiago, Cuba, in a town that has been dedicated to copper mining for more than four centuries.
Devotion to Our Lady of Charity began at the beginning of the 17th century, when the statue of Mary was found in the ocean, in the year 1612.
According to three witnesses — two indigenous men and an African-Cuban 10-year-old boy — the image was found suddenly floating in the water of the Bay of Nipe. A board fixed to the image read “I am the Virgin of Charity.” The image is some 33 inches tall.
The Virgin has the Child Jesus in her left arm, and a cross in her right hand.
She was initially brought to the town of Barajagua, but shortly thereafter was taken to the town of El Cobre (cobre is Spanish for copper). Her first chapel was built there in 1648. This chapel was enlarged and in 1680 became a shrine.
Devotion to Our Lady under this advocation spread across the island, and attracted people of all races in Cuba.
On the inside of the shrine, a Chapel of Miracles has the ex votos of many who have obtained a grace through her intercession.
She is celebrated each September 8, the birthday of Mary.
Our Lady of Charity was declared the patroness of Cuba by Pope Benedict XV on May 10, 1916.
In 1927, the image was taken to a larger sanctuary. And in 1936, it was solemnly crowned by a delegation from Pope Pius XI.
In 1977, Pope Paul VI elevated the shrine to the status of Minor Basilica. And in 1998, Pope John Paul II visited the shrine, and crowned Mary as the “queen and patroness of the island.” Pope Benedict celebrated Mass during his visit to Cuba marking the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the image. He prayed:
Dear brothers and sisters, before the gaze of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, I appeal to you to reinvigorate your faith, that you may live in Christ and for Christ, and armed with peace, forgiveness and understanding, that you may strive to build a renewed and open society, a better society, one more worthy of humanity, and which better reflects the goodness of God. Amen.
And Pope Francis also spent time in prayer before the image during his visit to Cuba.
Holy Mary of Charity, who came as a messenger of peace, floating on the ocean, you are our Mother. We turn to you, Holy Mary of God, to honor you with our love, as your children.
In your motherly heart, we place our anxieties and hopes, our desires and prayers. We pray for our divided country, and ask that all of us might work to build peace and harmony.