Acknowledging some serious social ills in his native land—namely, an increase in violence, drug-related crimes and political divisions—Bishop Hector Rafael Rodriguez of the Diocese of La Vega, Dominican Republic, is advocating for the intercession of Our Lady of Altagracia, spiritual protector of the Dominican Republic.
And he encouraged those assembled at the annual Our Lady of Altagracia Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Jan. 15 to do the same.
The early afternoon Spanish-language liturgy, honoring the Blessed Mother under the title Our Lady of Altagracia, drew a congregation of approximately 1,800, including the first lady of the Dominican Republic, Candida Montilla de Medina.
The Feast of Nuestra Senora de la Altagracia is Jan. 21.
“What a good way to start this new year, 2017, by honoring the Virgin Mary through her Altagracia image,” said Bishop Rodriguez, who served as the principal celebrant and homilist. “She protects our faith, she protects our hope…We must always maintain a dialogue with God, and say ‘yes’ to him, as Mary did, with humility.”
Mrs. Medina, Dominican diplomats and all present were welcomed by Cardinal Dolan, who also took part in the opening procession. Noting the spiritual significance of Our Lady of Altagracia, the cardinal said he has twice visited the Basilica of Our Lady of Altagracia in the Dominican Republic, a remark that was greeted with applause.
Bishop Rodriguez spoke of the importance of such virtues as love, compassion and respect, for the well-being of all families and all communities.
Mrs. Medina, wife of Dominican Republic President Danilo Medina, attended the Mass as a gesture of support, camaraderie and solidarity. She gave brief related remarks to reporters before and after the liturgy. Also present was U.S. Rep. Adriano D. Espaillat, D-NY, of the 13th District, who is Dominican-American.
Manuel Buduan, 78, was also among the Mass attendees. Born and raised in the Dominican Republic, he is an active volunteer at St. Elizabeth parish in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan. “Yo soy Altagraciano hasta la medula (I am Altagracian through and through),” he said in a brief interview before Mass. “I trust in the Lord and I trust in her; they’ve helped me through my health struggles and in all ways. This is very important for me as a Catholic and as a Dominican.”
Also at the Mass was Josefa Moncion, a member of Our Lady of Refuge parish in the Bronx who is a native of the Dominican Republic. “Our Lady of Altagracia holds us by our hands and never lets go, so she can lead us to Christ,” she said.
The gathering featured many who carried red-white-and-blue flags of the Dominican Republic and images of Our Lady of Altagracia. Some organ-accompanied hymns included soft bongo beats. At the conclusion of the Mass congregants sang the national anthems of the Dominican Republic and the United States. Several children presented Bishop Rodriguez with gifts. A moving rendition of “Ave Maria” was also sung.
Angela Lopez, president of the archdiocesan Committee of Our Lady of Altagracia, gave closing remarks that expressed gratitude to Bishop Rodriguez, Mrs. Medina, all who helped make the gathering possible and to the many journalists from Latino media outlets, including those who traveled from the Dominican Republic.