Dominican Republic Faithful Honor Mary, Celebrate Culture

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Auxiliary Bishop Ramón Benito Angeles Fernández of the Archdiocese of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, told the faithful at St. Patrick’s Cathedral that the Blessed Mother is a woman “filled with tenderness, filled with love—and with purity of heart.”

The bishop served as the principal celebrant and homilist during the cathedral’s 45th annual Mass in honor of Our Lady of Altagracia. The Jan. 14 Spanish-language liturgy drew 1,500 people, with many waving flags of their beloved native land at the end of the sacred gathering.

Bishop Angeles, at the start of the Mass, expressed his joy in having the opportunity to celebrate the special liturgy honoring Nuestra Señora de Altagracia, “en esta catedral magnifico (in this magnificent cathedral).”

Our Lady of Altagracia is the protectress of the Dominican Republic, and her feast day is Jan. 21.

“It is Mary who is the bearer of grace, in social and political liberation, in oppression and division, in violence—and even in war,” Bishop Angeles said during his homily. “Our Mother Mary reaches all hearts, all countries, all languages and all cultures…She is patroness, protector and intercessory—the Mother of Jesus. As a mother, Mary wants unity among all her children.”

The bishop acknowledged similar statements made by Pope Francis and St. John Paul II about the Mother of God. He also noted the titles of Mary in many countries, including Our Lady of Fatima (Portugal); Our Lady of Guadalupe (the Americas); Our Lady of the Angels (Costa Rica); Saint Mary of Antigua (Panama); and Our Lady of Lourdes (France); as well as Our Lady of the Divine Providence in Puerto Rico.

He spoke of the special importance of Our Lady of Altagracia in the spiritual lives and the cultural identity of the people of the Dominican Republic—those in the Caribbean and the many now living in New York. The bishop was joined by 12 concelebrants, including Auxiliary Bishop Josu Iriondo, now retired, and Msgr. Robert Ritchie, rector of the cathedral.

Altagracia Vargas, 52, was among the faithful at the Mass. She is a parishioner of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs in Inwood, who was born and raised in the Dominican Republic. Mrs. Vargas said her parents had such great devotion to Our Lady of Altagracia they named her after that Marian title.

“This is our culture, and this is our faith,” Mrs. Vargas, a married mother of two, told CNY in an interview before the Mass. “This Mass represents our country, the Dominican Republic—and our Catholic faith. I am a lifelong Catholic.”

She said she was delighted Bishop Angeles traveled from the Dominican Republic to celebrate the Mass. “He is here to represent us, to show his support,” she said.

Esteban Espinal, 77, told CNY he attended the liturgy to join his countrymen in “celebrating Our Lady of Altagracia—es una bendicion de Dios (it is a blessing from God); and the bishop from Santo Domingo is celebrating here with us, with lots of love.” Espinal, born and raised in the Dominican Republic, is a parishioner of St. Jude, also in Inwood.

“This is a wonderful day—and we have a wonderful faith, the Catholic Church,” Espinal added. “Our fathers and mothers taught us the faith when we were children, and we thank the Lord that we still manifest that love that we have for our Catholic faith.” Espinal was with his wife, Eusevia. They have been married for 55 years, and they are parents of nine, grandparents of 22 and great-grandparents of three.

Among the dignitaries attending the Mass was the first lady of the Dominican Republic, Candida Montilla de Medina, the wife of President Danilo Medina. There were also Dominican Republic diplomats and Rep. Adriano D. Espaillat, D-N.Y., 13th District, who is Dominican-American.

The gathering featured a framed image of Our Lady of Altagracia, and choir singers accompanied by soft sounds of congas and maracas.

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