Three new exhibits honoring Cuba’s patron saint, Our Lady of Charity, were unveiled Tuesday as thousands of devotees paid homage to the venerated religious icon affectionately known as “Cachita.”
The exhibits — Cuba's Patron, The Cuban Exodus and the Role of Hispanics in South Florida — are on display at the library at St. Thomas University and are part of a national initiative called “Latino Americans: 500 Years of History,” sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Library Association.
The most extensive exhibit features old photographs documenting Cuban exiles’ devotion to "Cachita," which were borrowed from from the Archdiocese of Miami archives and previously published in the church’s newspapers The Voice and La Voz Catolica.
"This project includes videos and films, as well as academic professors who will speak about the presence of Hispanics in the United States," said Sister Ondina Cortés, a theology expert with a Ph.D in Theology and Ministries at St. Thomas University, 16701 NW 37 Ave. "It's the first time we put together an exhibit with items from our archives."
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The exhibit provides a history of the saint’s arrival to Miami on Sept. 8, 1961 when a replica of the original statue, housed at a shrine in El Cobre in southeastern Cuba, made its way from the island through Panama and ultimately to the former Bobby Maduro baseball stadium in Miami. Some 30,000 Cuban exiles gathered to pay homage to their beloved saint.
The original statue was found in the Nipe Bay in 1602.
Cachita was venerated originally by the slaves of El Cobre, in Santiago de Cuba, in the 17th century, and then by the mambises, revolutionaries against the Spanish in the war for independence in the late 1800s and early 21st Century.
“She was revered at El Cobre and that devotion extended itself throughout the entire country at the start of the 20th Century until the time the Catholic Church named her as the patron of Cuba," Cortés said.
The exhibit also displays photographs of the construction of La Ermita de la Caridad, a shrine in Coconut Grove completed in 1973 thanks to donations of thousands of Cuban exiles.
"Our Lady of Charity is not only a symbol of faith but a national symbol,” Cortés said. “When people live far from their homeland, it is important for them to keep their roots, have their rituals, keep their experiences alive to preserve that sense of identity and connection to their homeland."
Two other exhibits at the university showcase the historic and cultural realities of the city of Miami.
Latino Americans: Cuban Experiences in Miami starts with the exodus of thousands of Cubans in search of liberty and continues with political asylum, the establishment of the Cuban Refugee Assistance Program, the first massive exodus from Camarioca, the Freedom Flights, and the establishment of a community that transformed the city.
Miami: A Multicultural Hispanic Community focuses on different types of ethnic and racial groups of Hispanics in Miami.
The “Latino Americans: 500 Years of History” project will host activities throughout the year. The exhibits will be open to the public through May 15, 2016. For more information, call St. Thomas University at (305) 625-6000.
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