A Close-up of Cuba’s Virgin of Charity

Jorge Milanes Despaigne

Photo: Jimmy Roque Martinez

HAVANA TIMES, Dec 14 — Recently I went to the Lawton neighborhood to visit my friend Clara. The taxi route dropped me just outside the house of this friend, who had been expecting me since early that afternoon.

I didn’t know that the figurine of the Virgin of Charity, our patron saint on a pilgrimage across the island, would be coming to the Lawton Parish that night, which explained the enthusiasm of Clara in the doorway of her home.

She had prepared a delicious meal, but then — instead of enjoying a movie together like we always do on all my visits — she invited me to church to welcome the Virgin.

We ate about 7:00 that evening and there was no time to do the dishes. We’d already heard the rumor that there would be throngs of people positioned at the entrance to the parish.

The Virgin came in a car escorted by motorized police, those who are usually called Havana’s finest…at giving fines. I remembered when I had seen the virgin in Santiago de Cuba a little over a year ago. Then it had been daylight, and the impression of seeing the statuette had been different.

This night the Virgin could be viewed in a glass or acrylic case among flowers and lights. People were cheering and jubilant after singing the national anthem. We listened to the voice of the bishop who summarized the presence of the “Mother of all Cubans” in the history of the Cuban nation.

I didn’t enjoy seeing such disorder among people who had never or almost never in their life set foot in a Catholic church. Above all, there were those who were shouting, pushing and didn’t understand the need for silence and respect. Nor did I particularly appreciate seeing the security personnel designated by the government with bloodshot eyes or smelling the alcohol on their breaths.

Nevertheless my friend Clara and I were able to approach the Virgin of Charity, to worship the very same image that had been known by our independence leader Antonio Maceo and so many other Cubans. We sang Ave Maria and asked her to intercede with God for the fulfillment of our dreams.

Jorge Milanes

Jorge Milanes: My name is Jorge Milanes Despaigne, and I’m a tourism promoter and public relations specialist. Forty-five years ago I was born in Cojimar, a small coastal town to the east of Havana. I very much enjoy trips and adventure; and now that I know a good bit about my own country, I’d like to learn more about other nations. I enjoy reading, singing, dancing, haute cuisine and talking with interesting people who offer wisdom and happiness.

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