Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Dominican Sisters Invited to Havana in 1900

The purpose of the congregation as laid out in the Bishop’s letter of approval was to be two-fold, the cloistered Sisters would devote themselves to the spiritual works of the retreat and home for homeless or unemployed girls, and the “out Sisters” would attend to business outside the convent, such as visiting the dying and caring for the poor, “when called upon.” Mother Catherine de’ Ricci, continued to suffer from the illness for which she was sent to Europe to recuperate.  Sadly only a short time after founding the congregation, she died on January 1, 1894.  On the Feast of Our Lady’s Nativity, September 8th, 1894, Mother Catherine de Ricci’s sister Lillie, called Mother Mary Loyola of Jesus in religious life, was elected to succeed her as Mother General.  The end of Spanish-American War in 1898 opened up new possibilities for missionaries in the Caribbean and Latin American.  The newly appointed Bishop of Havana, Monsignor Donato Raffaele Sbarretti Tazza invited Mother Mary Loyola to send a few Dominican Sisters to Cuba to set up an orphanage for black and mestizo children without families to care for them. In response to this invitation Mother Loyola visited Havana in 1900 to investigate further and see what would be needed for this endeavor.  With the help of a letter of introduction written by President Theodore Roosevelt, in 1901 Mother Loyola opened a school for the orphans placing it under the patronage of Our Lady of the Rosary.  She brought with her four Dominican Sisters from New York: Sister Sibyllina, Sister Imelda Teresa, Sister Henry and Sister Rose.  Our Lady of the Rosary was a free orphanage and school for black and mestizo children orphaned by the Spanish-American war.  Also in that same year Mother Loyola opened an academy for the English speaking daughters of upper class families placing that under the patronage of Our Lady Help of Christians.  Mother Loyola’s hope was to call upon the local devotion to Our Lady of Charity to instill a spirit of charity in the wealthy families of the area so that they would use their own resources to help to care for the poor in their midst and support the orphanage. At the time of their arrival Cuba was the largest island in the Caribbean and only 110 miles from the shores of the United States in Key West.  

Monday, December 30, 2013

History of the Islands Ceded to U.S. in 1898

At the time of the Dominican Sisters’ arrival there was already a deep historical connection between the U.S. and Cuba.  The island is one of several that had been claimed for Spain by Christopher Columbus in October 1492. Cuba had been a colony of Spain until the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898 when Spain ceded the territories of Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam to the United States.  Cuba was temporarily administered by the United States when the first Dominican Sisters arrived in 1901 to open an orphanage in Havana.  The following year the U.S. granted Cuba its independence.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Seeds of Catholic Faith Planted in Cuba

Owing to the Spanish colonization from 1492 to 1898, the seeds of the Roman Catholic faith were already planted and devotion to Our Lady centered on a local cult at El Cobre that began in the early part of the 17th century. This is the legend of Our Lady of Cobre as told by the black slave Juan Moreno to the parish priest at El Cobre.  He and two native boys named Juan had been sent out in a boat in the Bay of Nipe to get salt for the Barajagua slaughter house for the preservation meat.  A storm came up suddenly and their boat began to toss violently on waves.  

It happened that Juan Moreno was wearing a medal with the image of the Virgin Mary, and fearing for his life he began to pray for her protection.  Suddenly the storm ended and the sky cleared.  In the distance the three Juans saw a strange object floating toward them in the water.  The waves brought the object to the boat slowly and it turned out to be a small statue of the Virgin Mary holding the child Jesus on her left arm and a gold cross in her right hand.  An inscription attached to the statue said simply, “I am the Virgin of Charity."  

They were overjoyed to find that the skin of the Virgin was dark like a mulatto and she was dressed with real cloth and her hair was real hair.    Naturally they attributed their miraculous salvation to Our Lady and this statue was a gift from God to prove it.  They rowed ashore and brought the miraculous statue the overseer, Don Francisco Sánchez de Moya. 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Our Lady of El Cobre named Virgin Mambisa

An excerpt from Juan Moreno’s follows:   

“And the overseer, very happy and without delay, sent immediately Antonio Angola with the news about the Lady to the Captain don Francisco Sanchez de Moya who administered the mines of the place so as to dispose what was to be done.  And while the news arrived they placed in the residential house of the cattle ranch a wooden altar and over it they placed the Holy Virgin with a light. And with the news don Francisco Sanchez de Moya sent an order to the overseer Miguel Galan to make a house in the cattle ranch and to place there the Image of Our Lady of Charity and always keep her with a light… And to the admiration of all, three lights appeared and were seen during three consecutive evenings and then they disappeared near the quarry at the old mine.  Due to this miracle they chose the place where they had seen the lights for the hermitage and holy house of Our Lady of Charity who is on the said hill performing many miracles with the devotees who call on her.”

A shrine to Our Lady of Charity was built next to a copper mine near the place where a miracle occurred.  Pilgrimages appealing to Our Lady for miraculous remedies were frequent and a hospice was added to accommodate them in the 1920’s.  El Cobre was traditionally home to the native peoples pushed to the less hospitable end of the island first by the Carib and later by the Spanish colonials. Runaway slaves and imported Chinese farm laborers and miners sought refuge there as well.  

In 1998 on his visit to Cuba Pope John Paul II gave Our Lady of El Cobre the title Virgin Mambisa meaning she represented their struggle for freedom.  This came to be a symbol not only for the inhabitants of the pueblo of El Cobre, but for the whole multiracial Cuban population after the Communist takeover. 

Friday, December 27, 2013

Shrine and Hospice Built Near the Slave Mines

The legend of Our Lady of Charity appealed to native people still practicing pre-Columbian religion and descendants of slaves still practicing the religion brought over from West Africa.  A syncretized devotion to Our Lady of El Cobre spread rapidly and pilgrimages continued to be plentiful.   

 “The shrine flourished in the midst of a black pueblo of royal slaves and free people of color. During that period its reputation as a healing shrine grew and a loose and informal local devotion became institutionalized under the aegis of the Church. By 1756, Bishop Morell de Santa Cruz declared that "The sanctuary of El Cobre is the richest, most frequented, and most devout in the Island, and the Lady of Charity the most miraculous image of all those venerated [in Cuba]."