Our Lady of Charity: How a Cuban Devotion to Mary Helped Me Grow in Faith and Love by Maria Morera JohnsonMaria Morera Johnson grew up knowing the virgencita—the Virgin Mary—and had a special love for Our Lady of Charity, the patroness of Cuba.
Even after Johnson moved to the United States, Our Lady of Charity continued to influence her life. In her new book, the bestselling and award-winning author shares her childhood recollections of the devotion to the patroness of her native country and stories of how Mary helped her deepen her faith and led her to Jesus. Johnson also invites you to know Mary in a new way and to allow devotion to the Blessed Mother to help you open your heart to others and to grow in faith and love.
The origin of the devotion to Our Lady of Charity in Cuba comes from a seventeenth-century story of three men who were tossed about at sea during a violent storm. They prayed to Mary for her protection and the storm suddenly disappeared. They found a statue of the Blessed Mother holding Jesus and a gold cross floating in the water. The statue included the inscription: “I am the Virgin of Charity.” The statue was completely dry as it floated in the water.
Our Lady of Charity is not a Church-approved apparition; nevertheless, several popes—including St. John Paul II and Pope Francis, who celebrated Mass at her shrine during his visit to Cuba in 2015—have supported devotion to Mary under this title.
Johnson, author of the bestselling My Badass Book of Saints, traces the history of Our Lady of Charity in Cuba and how the devotion was spread by emigrants as they left their country behind. Johnson weaves the story of the devotion with Cuba’s history, memories of her homeland, and tales of her journey back to Cuba for the first time since her childhood during Pope Francis’s 2015 Apostolic Visit.
Throughout Our Lady of Charity, Johnson shares her devotion to Mary and passion for her Catholic faith. This evocative spiritual memoir is part history and part memory, part modern-day travelogue and part meditation on the role faith, family, and devotion have on how we live and love.
Our Lady of Charity
The image itself is syncretic—part of a process that has occurred through the centuries. The white man, the black man and the mulatto that lie at her feet in a small boat is a reminder of the three men—one black and two Indians—who found a small wooden statue of the Virgin Mary holding the child Jesus in her arms while sailing around the Bay of Nipe in the early 17th century. She is venerated in many countries, cities and regions as their patroness, usually under a specific title or apparition. This is the case of Cuba, which celebrates that day as the feast day of Our Lady of Charity. Every year, several thousands of Cubans of all ages, races and social position accompany the statue in the traditional procession that takes place in the working-class neighborhood of Centro Habana. This tradition was taken up again after the historic visit of Pope John Paul to Cuba in
Several known Marian images with the same title exist around the world while a particular Hispanic image is pontifically designated by Pope Benedict XV as the Patroness of Cuba. Various similar Marian images predating the Cuban image have a similar title as well as having been granted a canonical coronation by the Popes and can be found in the Spanish cities of Cartagena , Villarrobledo , Illescas , Loja , La Garrovilla , and Toledo, Spain along with its replicated copies in Basilica Minore of Our Lady of Charity in Agoo , and the image of Bantay Church in Ilocos Sur , Philippines. The history of the La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre , began around The image is thought to have been brought by Spaniard colonists from the town of Illescas , a province in Toledo, Spain where a similar statue of the Virgin Mary of Charity was already well-venerated. Local legend recalls the Spanish captains who bring with them religious Marian images to guide and protect them from English pirates at sea.
A minor miracle occurred on a dark train platform in a provincial Cuban town in I had been a Cuban-American exile for two decades, and had managed to wrangle a visa to visit my sick mother. After seeing her, I had traveled to the train station with some unfinished business. The middle-aged woman in the black dress behind the counter inspected me. My stomach sank. How could she know that I needed a ticket so that I could fulfill a sacred promise my mother had made 22 years earlier? Traveling in communist Cuba was a bureaucratic nightmare, tickets taking weeks or months to obtain, if one could get them at all.
Our Lady of Charity also known as Our Lady of El Cobre or Nuestra Senora de la Caridad del . Spain. An earlier image of Our Lady of Charity predating and sourcing the Cuban image is venerated in the town of Illescas, Toledo, Spain.
right side of rock bottom
It was crucial for my parents that we knew what it meant to be Cuban, especially because we were too young when we emigrated to have our own memories of our home country. One of my favorite parts of these gatherings was the stories, often involving people whose significance I would recognize only years later. Thomas Merton, for example, had a personal devotion to la Caridad. Our frequent moves when I was a child made me the perennial new kid in school, the foreign girl with the weird accent. As a grade-schooler I was attracted to the story of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus fleeing to Egypt as refugees.
About , two native Indians, Rodrigo and Juan de Hoyos, along with a ten-year-old slave boy, Juan Moreno, were looking for salt to preserve the meat of the Barajagua slaughter house, which supplied the workers and inhabitants of "Santiago del Prado," now known as "El Cobre. At daybreak the weather was again calm, and they set off upon the sea. At a distance, they saw a white object, which appeared to be a bird floating on the waves and coming towards them slowly. As it drew closer, it seemed to be a girl until they realized it was a statue of the Virgin Mary holding the child on her right arm and with a gold cross in her left hand. The statue was fastened to a board with the inscription, "I am the Virgin of Charity.
Early in the 17th century, three sailors left the Bay of Nipe to collect salt. Their vessel was small, so that when a storm arose they were drifting and rocked violently on the roaring ocean. One of the men wore a medal stamped with an image of the Blessed Virgin, and the three began to pray for her protection. The storm suddenly cleared, and the men saw something they could not immediately identify coming toward across the water. We still have the testimony of one of the men, Juan Moreno, regarding this incident.