History of the Shrine

Half a century ago, on Sept. 8, 1961, after only three years of existence, the Archdiocese of Miami celebrated the feast of Our Lady of Charity, with 30,000 Cuban exiles praying with our first shepherd, Archbishop Coleman F. Carroll.

That huge Marian celebration demonstrated the charity of the U.S. Catholic Church, which during its history has always been characterized by its welcome of immigrants. It was also proof of the great devotion that Cubans feel for the Mother of Christ under the patronage of Our Lady of Charity: a people who, seeking freedom, fled from their homeland leaving everything behind but the love of their Heavenly Mother.

We will always remember that welcoming gesture by Archbishop Carroll. He was the same archbishop who, along with Msgr. Bryan O. Walsh, opened his arms to more than 14,000 children whose parents, trusting the Church, sent them to the United States in order to save them from the Marxist indoctrination that was beginning to take place in Cuba.

In this archdiocese, we found our Mother, the Church, who never abandons her children, not even in the worst circumstances. The Church of Miami opened its doors to us by speaking in Spanish, as it opened its doors to the Haitian people by speaking to them in Creole, giving proof of the acts of charity implored by the American bishops in their pastoral letter, “Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope.”

On that same day, Sept. 8, 1961, the image of Our Lady of Charity arrived from Cuba. This image presided over that first celebration and has been with her people during this half century, first visiting the camps of Cuban children who had arrived without their families, then at the parish of St. John Bosco in Little Havana, and later in the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity since its construction began in 1967.

This celebration of the feast of Our Lady of Charity has been held every year, always with the presence of the archbishops who succeeded Archbishop Carroll: Edward McCarthy, John Favalora, and now Thomas Wenski, who has attended the celebrations as a seminarian, a priest, an auxiliary bishop, and now as our archbishop. This year’s celebration of the September 8 feast day will be twice as meaningful, because it falls within the framework of the Jubilee Year 2011-2012, the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the image of Our Lady of Charity floating on the sea on the northeast coast of Cuba.

We have been preparing for this celebration through the past Triennium: 2008-2009, 2009-2010, and 2010-2011. The Confraternity of Our Lady of Charity and the apostolic movements of the archdiocese have participated in a pastoral program during those three years which was prepared under Bishop Felipe Estévez’s direction.

We have tried to evangelize our families first, and then our parish family — which is a family of families ¬— in the light of the Gospel of the Annunciation, the Visitation and the wedding at Cana. Each family has been invited to have a Family Night once a week, with a dinner, the Rosary and some family activity.

Our constant participation at these annual celebrations of September 8 prompted Archbishop Carroll’s idea of building a shrine devoted to our Queen and Mother, Our Lady of Charity. He announced this during his homily in 1966. He began by example, donating the land that lies along the same sea that unites us with that blessed land where the original image resides at the shrine of El Cobre. The National Shrine of Our Lady of Charity is now a monument to Christian love, a love expressed by the monetary sacrifices which were made by the Cuban people in order to build it during those early and difficult years of exile.

As in previous years, the feast of Our Lady of Charity will be celebrated once again this September 8 at the University of Miami. We expect everyone to attend as they did a half century ago, when Cuban exiles honored the Virgin of Charity, who was declared patroness of Cuba 85 years ago, in 1915, by Pope Benedict XV, at the request of the veterans of the Cuban War of Independence.