MIAMI (CBSMiami) — Thousands of people honored the Patron Saint of Cuba today with a special Mass at the American Airlines Arena.
Our Lady of Charity serves as a beacon of hope, faith and unity for thousands of Cubans around the world, including those living in South Florida.
“She is our spiritual mother and I don’t know what I would do without her in my life,” said Marite Alfonso. Alfonso works at the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity, or La Hermita de la Cardidad, in Coconut Grove.
“It’s our mother. It’s Virgin Mary but of Charity in Santiago de Cuba and that’s why we love her,” Tamara Pena said. Pena was one of dozens of people waiting outside of the American Airlines Arena to mark the special day.
September 8th is the day Catholics around the world, especially in Cuba, honor the discovery of the statue of Our Lady of Charity.
“Finally, the 400th anniversary of the finding of the statue of Our Lady of Charity in Cuba found in Cuban waters in Nipe Bay,” explained worshipper Ani Ortiz.
Cubans in South Florida and on the island are honoring the occasion through Mass, music and family fellowship.
“Not only is it something spiritual, it’s something that just brings so many people together and it’s extremely important to all of us in different ways,” Mass attendee Massiel Prieto said.
The statue traveled by boat from the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity, also known as La Ermita de le Caridad in Coconut Grove, to the arena in downtown Miami where Archbishop Thomas Wenski delivered a Mass in her honor.
“It’s that spectacular moment when the statue arrives,” Ortiz said. “People waving white handkerchiefs is very special.”
It’s a celebration the Archdiocese has been planning for three years.
“Our Lady of Charity is a symbol for most Cubans as much as our own flag,” Ortiz said. “That is who she is that is why we are celebrating these 400 years in such a special way.”
Even those who were not born in Cuba note the significance.
“It’s in your blood. It’s in your culture,” Massiel Prieto said with pride. “It just brings everybody together one way or the other.”
The man who oversaw the construction of the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity, Bishop Augustin Roman, did not make it the celebration. He died in April after going in to cardiac arrest at the shrine.
A concert will be held at the arena following Saturday’s Mass.