In honor of the feast of Our Lady of Charity, patroness of Cuba, I am reposting a reflection on the revolutionary image and story. For a basic understanding and background of the story of Our Lady of Charity, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Our_Lady_of_Charity
¡Que viva Cachita!
Reading and reflecting on the story of the apparition of Our Lady of Charity, affectionately Cachita, has created an opportunity for me to profundizar my religious and cutltural roots as a Cuban-American (something that I have rarely done). As with all stories that involve the divine, the story of Cachita carries with it a multiplicity of theological meanings. Juan Moreno, one of the “tres Juanes,” shares a simple and very human narration of what took place almost 400 years ago demonstrating how the divine reached out to his community. His personal testimony reflects how GOD continues to find ways to connect with us in order to create new spiritual and cultural identities within changing spiritual and cultural realities—a testimony and messenger whose radicalness not only lies in the message of his witness but also is in the testimony of his person as he was a black slave, a true embodiment that GOD speaks in the most prophetic and unexpected ways.
Much of my Marian Theology or Mariology has focused on the image of Mary as a disciple who journeys with us on el camino de fe para locos y apasionados (the path of faith for the crazy and passionate). Juan’s story is in this same spirit presenting Cachita as a mother who walks with the people, especially the poor and oppressed. Her image is found in the sea by a black man and two Indians; symbolically representing a beacon of hope and revived dignity in the chaotic waters of marginalization. Though there is much discussion on her appearing both wet and dry as Juan shares at different parts of the narrative, this phenomenon shows that Mary is a mujer atrevida (a bold woman) that reverses social and cultural order by demonstrating that she is a woman who is with the people and is not afraid to get dirty (or in this case wet).
Juan shares that upon returning to shore with the statue an altar was built to place her on in the middle of the town. I believe that this is an attempt to keep the divine close to home. Juan states that upon seeing the image, both he and his companions felt joy. GOD does not speak through the image; simply being in her presence brings peace, comfort, and a sense of feeling acompanado. The community built a place to both honor Mary and hold onto the joy her presence brought. Despite the fact that Juan, Rodrigo, Juan, and los del pueblo were oppressed, they were able to carve out a refuge where people could relate to the divine on their own terms. There is no command to build a chapel, shrine, or church—this is done instinctively as a way to create sacred space to keep the heavenly close by. This is a mutual desire in that La Virgen wants to stay close to the people by demonstrating through lights where to build her iglesia; she wants to stay close to her children reminding them that GOD has not and will not abandon them.
Often times Marian images are used to uphold women’s faith. Juan’s story of Cachita, however, also upholds the faith of men (the divine feminine kindles and rekindles the spark of faith in people of all genders). Though men’s voices have dominated theological reflection and doctrine, it is often the case that lay men, especially my experience of hombres latinos, are reluctant to demonstrate their faith because eso es de mujer (that’s what women do). The story of Cachita as told through Juan reverses this notion in that it is the every day joe smoe that mobilizes el culto for Cachita. Juan describes how the men take the initiative to build the initial shrine, keep watch over Cachita, have conversations with Cachita, and lead the procession that leads to a miraculous quenching of a severe drought. The devotion described through Juan’s vivienda is a reminder that faith goes not only beyond social class and race but also gender. Though the men set out to retrieve salt for cooking and preserving food (a radical act of breaking gender norms), their lives become “salt for the earth.” Their experience not only preserves and spices up their faith and dignity but also that of the community and generations hasta la fecha (until today)
As our siblings in la lucha in the United Church of Christ share, “don’t put a period where GOD placed a comma—GOD is still speaking.” The story and image of Nuestra Senora de la Caridad continues to speak to Cubans and non-Cubans alike with new insights into how to encounter the divine within one’s own unique context and how that context can be transformed. Que viva Cachita!!!