Sunday, December 22, 2013

Hermitage of Our Lady of Charity in Miami

On September 8, 1961 the Archdiocese of Miami celebrated the feast of Our Lady of Charity with 30,000 Cuban exiles at Miami Stadium. On the same day, a 16-inch replica of the statue of Our Lady of Charity was smuggled out of Cuba and arrived at the stadium.  Five years later recognizing the popularity of the devotion and the need of the Cuban people in Miami, the Archdiocese announced the construction of the Hermitage of Our Lady of Charity in Miami. 

 “Inside, under the altar, is the first stone laid down on the foundation of the hermitage. As if a relic, or a fetish, that foundational stone contains land, sand and stones from the different provinces of Cuba smelted with water from a raft in which fifteen people died at sea trying to escape the island. Such a "charged" stone is in some ways evocative of the fundamentos ("foundations" or sacred stones) in which the presence of the Afro-Cuban orishas (deities or forces) is materialized in the Santeria tradition.”  

While devotion to Our Lady of Charity took root in Miami, the Catholic Church struggled to survive in Cuba a government hostile to religion even though the majority of its people still belonged to the faith.  Clergy and religious were expelled from Cuba, harassed or sent to work in labor camps until they could be “rehabilitated.”   

In 1960 there were approximately 723 priests in Cuba; by 1965 there were only 220. The number of female religious declined even more precipitously from 2225 in 1960 to 193 in 1965.  Beyond the loss of its clergy and women religious, Catholic schools were all closed, the Church’s buildings and property were nationalized. The Cuban Constitution prohibited Catholics from belonging to the Communist Party, which meant not being able to study or work. Given those penalties plus the decimation of Church leaders and lands, religious practice in Cuba plummeted and those who did not abandon the faith went underground.”   

In the early 1980s the Catholic Church in Cuban began to see a re-birth.  Clergy, religious and lay leaders came together in 1986 for the National Cuban Ecclesial Encounter and issued a proclamation that declared, “With an eye inspired by the faith, we have contemplated our past, reflected on our present, and eagerly projected ourselves into the future, leading us to discover the kind of church we want to be”  Among other things the Church in Cuba declared its intention to be a missionary Church that hears the call of God and confidently sends out preachers and undertakes pastoral work wherever the Spirit wills.