|Basilica National Shrine of Our Lady of Charity, El Cobre|
In his fifth apostolic journey outside of the European continent, Pope Francis will visit Cuba and the United States of America, marking his longest trip thus far. He will spend 3 days on the largest and westernmost island of the West Indies, followed by a 5-day visit to the American East. In a series of articles, I will introduce the places that will be visited by the Pope from the perspectives of a Catholic pilgrim. Today, let us travel to Cuba first.
Since its discovery by Christopher Columbus in 1492, the island of Cuba has been ruled by the Catholic monarchs of Spain, and briefly by France, England and the USA, until the country gained independence in 1902. Baracoa, the first colony, became a bishopric in 1517, but the seat was transferred to Santiago when the capital was moved there in 1522. The capital again moved to Havana in 1552, and the second Cuban diocese was established in the new capital in 1787. Today, there are a total of 11 dioceses in Cuba organized into 3 ecclesiastical provinces (Havana, Santiago and Camagüey), with a total of 6.8 million Catholics out of 11.2 million people, served by 283 parishes, 16 bishops, 196 secular priests and 169 religious priests, 84 deacons, 35 religious brothers and 624 religious sisters.
|Cathedral of Havana|
|Cathedral of Santiago|
A simple chapel was immediately built in Barajagua to house the statue. On several occasions, the image disappeared for hours, leading to people’s speculation that it was to meant to be placed in a different spot. The statue was later transferred to the top of a small hill in El Cobre where a church was built. The Shrine of Our Lady of Charity, rebuilt in 1927, houses the statue till this day.
The statue made of baked clay measures 40 centimetres tall. The Blessed Virgin, standing on a brilliant moon with angels on a silver cloud, holds the baby Jesus who holds a golden globe on his left hand while raising his right hand to bless.
|Basilica of Our Lady of Charity, El Cobre|
Pope Benedict XV declared Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre as the patroness of Cuba on 10 May 1916. The statue was canonically crowned on 20 December 1936. The national shrine was raised to the dignity of minor basilica on 22 December 1977. Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI visited the shrine during their apostolic journey to Cuba in 1998 and 2012 respectively. The latter pope even granted a golden rose to the basilica, a privilege of which only a few shrines around the world can boast, on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the statue. Pope Francis will be in the basilica on the evening of 21 September 2015 for prayer, and on the next day for Mass.
As the Pope is embarking on his visit to Cuba, let us pray for the reinvigoration of the faith of the Cuban people and Our Lady of El Cobre’s protection on the nation.
Photos: Gabriel Chow
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