“Mother of Reconciliation! Gather your people scattered around the world. Make the Cuban nation become a place of brothers and sisters”. This is a passage from the prayer recited by Pope Francis in front of the Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, at the shrine of Santiago, the last stop of his journey on the Caribbean island. The Holy Father has asked to make the Cuban nation become “a family of brothers and sisters” able to “open their minds, their hearts, and their lives to Christ”.
Devotion to the Virgen – quite widespread in Cuba – dates back to the early years of the 17th century, when three slaves who worked in the copper mines of Barajagua, Juan Morteno, a ten-year-old creole, in the company of his brothers Indio Rodrigo and Juan de Hoyos, found a wooden statue, about sixty centimeters tall, that was floating on the water in the Bahia de Nipe, on the north-west coast of Cuba. On the statue were engraved the following words “Virgen de la Caridad”. After this discovery, the small sacred image was brought to the mining center of El Cobre (in Spanish cobre means copper), where in 1628 they built a hermitage and later, in 1684, a shrine to house the statue which represents Virgin Mary with Child Jesus’ who holds up the globe. Among the numerous visitors of the sanctuary, many of whom leave offerings or ex voto, there was also Ernest Hemingway who donated the medal he received when he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954.
Today, the Pontiff will celebrate Mass in the sanctuary, then he will meet with the families in the “Our Lady” Cathedral. Finally, Francis will bless the town. The farewell ceremony at the airport, at 12.15, will conclude the Pope’s visit on the Cuban island, before the take-off at 12.30 local time to Washington where, at 16.00, Francis will be welcomed by the president Barack Obama and his family at the military base of Andrews.