Cuban-American celebration of the patroness of Cuba is Sunday

Published: Friday, September 6, 2013 at 6:18 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, September 6, 2013 at 6:18 p.m.

Lauren Fortunato has attended the traditional Cuban-American celebration of the patroness of Cuba, Our Lady of Charity, at St. Patrick Catholic Church since she was a child.

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Devotees of Our Lady of Charity, Cuba’s patron known as Nuestra Seņora de la Caridad del Cobre, will celebrate a Mass in her honor Sunday at St. Patrick Catholic Church.


If you go

What: Our Lady of Charity Celebration (Misa Solemne en Honor a Nuestra Seņora de la Caridad Del Cobre)
When: Sunday; 3 p.m. rosary, 3:30 p.m. Mass
Where: St. Patrick Catholic Church, 500 NE 16th Ave.

Now, as a 20-year-old college student, she said she tries to stay involved in the event. It’s what her grandmother would have wanted.

Fortunato’s grandmother, Mirise DeCastro, helped organize the event in the late 1980s after DeCastro and her family moved to Gainesville. DeCastro would bring her children to the event that was a link to her native Cuba. Then her daughter, Rosi Fortunato, Lauren’s mother, had children of her own and brought them, too.

This year’s event begins at 3 p.m. Sunday with a recitation of the rosary at St. Patrick Catholic Church, 500 NE 16th Ave. Mass begins at 3:30 p.m. The service is in Spanish, and a reception with traditional Cuban food, such as picadillo chicken and fried plantains, will follow.

Rosi Fortunato said the tradition was important to her mother because it was something from her homeland that she wanted to pass on to her children.

The celebration honoring Our Lady of Charity, or Nuestra Seņora de La Caridad del Cobre, as she is known in Cuba, began more than 400 years ago.

The story that has been passed down from generation to generation begins with three boys who were sent to gather salt to preserve the meat of their town’s slaughterhouse near Santiago, Cuba. While on their way across the Bay of Nipe, their boat encountered a storm.

Suddenly, as the story goes, the waters calmed, and the boys saw a bundle floating on a piece of wood. It was a small statue of the Virgin Mary holding the baby Jesus. The words “Yo soy la Virgen de la Caridad” were inscribed on the statue. The phrase translates to “I am the Virgin of Charity.”

The boys brought the statue back to their village, and a chapel was built to honor the image. The original statue still resides in Cuba.

It was a miraculous event that saved their lives, said Rosi Fortunato, who added that she had the honor last year of carrying her church’s statue to the altar.

The tradition of celebrating the day of Our Lady of Charity was brought to Florida by Cubans who fled to Miami to escape Fidel Castro’s communist regime.

In Cuba, the Our Lady of Charity celebration includes a parade of boats floating to shore with the statue.

Maria Llinas, who helps organize the event, has been involved in the preparations since she came to Gainesville in 1975.

Back then, the celebration was a small one, she recalled. Now the event draws 100 to 200 people, including people from other Latin American countries.

“It’s like a tie to my country,” Llinas said.

Cuban-Americans account for 2.3 percent of Gainesville’s population — or about 2,880 people — according to 2010 census data, the most recent data available. About 10 percent of Gainesville’s population is Hispanic, according to the 2010 census.

Lauren Fortunato said she invites her friends to the event, and they always enjoy the upbeat Spanish music and say that they wished they had music like that at their churches. The Spanish choir at St. Augustine Catholic Church usually provides the music for the Our Lady of Charity Mass.

The event keeps the Cuban culture alive, Lauren Fortunato said. When she has her own children, she said, she plans to bring them to the celebration just like her mother did with her, and her grandmother did with her children.

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