Mary seems to have taken Jesus’ last words to her and John extremely seriously. Through the years, Mary has always made herself present to us, her children, in a faithful and unique way. Mary’s great sensitivity to the cultural and historic moment being lived by God’s children then has never ceased to amaze me. Just a few days ago, our Puerto Rican brothers and sisters in the USA celebrated Our Lady, the woman Jesus left us as our Mother. History tells us that in the 19th century, Msgr. Gil Esteve (Spain ) was assigned as bishop of Puerto Rico. It was then that he quickly made devotion to Our Lady of Divine Providence known in the island. Jan. 2, the day of Msgr. Gil’s arrival in the island, was set as Our Lady’s feast. However, Puerto Rico having been discovered on Nov. 19, 1493, when Christopher Columbus first set foot in the island, seemed to be the perfect choice for her feast for our Holy Father Paul VI when the decision was made to have Our Lady of Divine Providence as Patroness of the island. Back in 1969, Paul VI stated the need to unite this historic moment with the solemnity of Mary.
Father Fabio Fernandez, parochial vicar for the Hispanic community at St. Bridget’s Church in Glassboro, said the following: “Our parish celebrated the feast of Our Lady on Nov. 20 at 7 p.m. The prayer of the rosary, national anthems of the USA and Puerto Rico, and a procession preceded the celebration of the Eucharist. Those present prayed and sang in a reverent and prayer-filled way. The music ministry from Divine Mercy Parish (Vineland) added a special touch to our celebration, also. But the most touching moment seemed to have been the offering of a rosary and a basket of fruits together with the bread and wine. It was during this moment that Santos Rosario (Puerto Rico) dressed in his native Caribbean outfit brought an added touch of ‘fiesta’ to our church.”
Maria Nieves, member of the Parish of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Camden, and also a native of Puerto Rico, said: “During our procession, typical symbols such as our flag, maracas and guiro instruments, a basket of vegetables, the Bible and a rosary were brought up to Our Lady as expressions of Papa Dios’ ( Abba Father) goodness to us in the island. The nicest thing for me was witnessing the beauty and joy our three choirs (Fatima, Holy Name and Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception) brought to us with their singing during our celebration. Last but not least, both our priests, Father Matthew Hillyard and Father Michael McCue, OSFS, expressed themselves in our language of origin so well that it made everybody jump for joy and applaud.”
“Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother” seems to be the on-going message for all to hear and remember as we celebrate our mother, Patroness of Puerto Rico, each year. Mary, our mother, who continually makes herself present to us, her children, through our history and cultural expressions. Mary, Our Lady of Divine Providence, who faithfully reminds us of her love and protection portrayed so well in the image of the Divine Providence. Mary, our mother, patroness of the island of laughter, singing, dancing and celebration making sure we, her children, always remember who we are and whose we are. Mary, our mother, walking right beside us as we begin the season of Advent 2010. May our Lady of Divine Providence help us to prepare our hearts for her Son through prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
Sonia Avi, IHM is associate director of Lifelong Faith Formation for Hispanics, Diocese of Camden.