Thousands of devotees of Our Lady of Charity gathered Sunday to worship the patron saint of Cuba in one of the largest annual Catholic church celebrations in South Florida.
The parishioners, many whom braved the rain and thunderstorms that had been moving through Miami-Dade, prayed for world peace and freedom for Cuba, and honored the virgin with the unveiling of an original song at the ceremony, which began at 5 p.m. at BankUnited Center at the University of Miami in Coral Gables.
“I have worshipped her since childhood; I grew up loving her, and that’s why I attend these beautiful ceremonies every year,’’ said an emotional Amparo Espinoza as she prepared to enter the large auditorium, where Archbishop of Miami Thomas Wenski led the 7 p.m. Mass.
“This is a very special day,” said Julio Estorino, who attended the event that is celebrated the first week of September. “It’s a day that mixes our faith and patriotism.” Cubans, who have nicknamed the virgin “Cachita,” closely associate her with their homeland.
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Sunday marked the 401st anniversary of the appearance of a vision of Our Lady of Charity in Cuban waters, which was seen by three fishermen.
The celebration to observe her day began last Sunday, when a statue of the virgin smuggled out of Cuba in 1961 was returned to the water with a boat ride along Biscayne Bay. That statue, encased in glass, was also brought to the BankUnited Center, where it was greeted by followers who waved yellow handkerchiefs in her honor.
Accompanying the virgin was Father Juan Rumin, spiritual leader of the Our Lady of Charity Shrine in Coconut Grove.
During the Mass, parishioners heard for the first time a song dedicated to the virgin and written by Latin Grammy winner Jorge Luis Piloto. The song was performed by Ana Maria Perera.
Proceeds from the sale of the song, whose cover was designed by Spanish-language radio commentator Ninoska Pérez Castellón, will benefit the National Shrine of the Ermita de la Caridad, at 3609 S. Miami Ave. in Miami.
The song is fittingly called A Prayer for Cuba to Our Lady of Charity.
Miami Herald reporter Luisa Yanez contributed to this report.