VATICAN CITY — A replica of the statue of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, Cuba’s patroness, was installed in the Vatican Gardens.
Perched on a pedestal adorned with white roses, the small statue was blessed during a special ceremony in a quiet corner of the gardens near St. John’s Tower Aug. 28.
Dozens of dignitaries attended the brief morning event, including Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the former Vatican secretary of state, and other top Vatican officials.
The president of the Cuban bishops’ conference, Archbishop Dionisio Garcia Ibanez of Santiago de Cuba, came for the installation, along with several other bishops from Cuba. Pope Francis greeted and welcomed the Cuban bishops during his Aug. 27 general audience in St. Peter’s Square.
The original 15-inch statue of Our Lady of Charity is housed in a shrine in the town of El Cobre, in the eastern province of Santiago. She is considered the spiritual mother of Cuba and a symbol of national identity.
The story of Cuba’s patroness dates back to around 1608, when two indigenous people and a young black slave were sent from the copper mining town of El Cobre, which is Spanish for copper, to get salt from the salt flats along the nearby Caribbean coast.
Tradition holds that while they were looking for the salt after a storm, they found floating in the water a statue that had survived a shipwreck. The statue was attached to a wooden plank with an inscription identifying it as Our Lady of Charity.
The small statue depicts Mary holding the baby Jesus on her left arm and a cross in her right hand.
The statue was eventually brought to El Cobre, where first a chapel then bigger shrines were built to honor her and accommodate the growing numbers of pilgrims.
Each day, hundreds of people visit the El Cobre shrine, popularly known as “the chapel of miracles,” to pray, ask for miracles, and offer flowers and other gifts ranging from crutches to gold jewelry and precious stones.
In 1915, Cuban veterans of the Spanish-American War, in which a U.S.-supported Cuba gained its independence from Spain, wrote Pope Benedict XV to declare Our Lady of Charity as Cuba’s patroness. A year later, the pope granted the request.
St. John Paul II crowned the image a second time as queen and patron saint of Cuba during his visit to Santiago de Cuba in 1998 and Benedict XVI prayed at the shrine during an apostolic visit to Cuba and Mexico in 2012.