In an impassioned homily message, a Cuban-born bishop called for the people of his beloved Caribbean nation to continue to struggle for justice and peace, and to pray for the intercession of Our Lady of Charity del Cobre, patroness of Cuba.
“We are here to commemorate the solemnity of Our Lady of Charity del Cobre,” said Auxiliary Bishop Manuel A. Cruz, of the Archdiocese of Newark, during the annual Our Lady of Charity del Cobre Mass Sept. 5 at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
“I feel very blessed to be here with all of you, the Hispanic community; brothers and sisters of Cuba. Thank you for your presence.”
Bishop Cruz, who served as principal celebrant, noted the special gratitude he felt that the cathedral was made available for the Cuban community to gather and pray “for liberty, for justice and for peace.” He noted this has been “a year of hope, a year of dreams,” alluding to the massive summer protests that erupted in Cuba, demonstrations in which protesters demanded freedom from decades of repression.
“We cannot stay silent,” the bishop said. “We have to shout out the truth; we have to cry out that we want freedom. We want the pain and the oppression of the past 62 years to end...Enough!”
He said the message from protesters in Cuba this summer was, “We prefer to die in the streets saying what is in our hearts, than to die of hunger.” He added, “We heard in today’s Gospel reading (Luke 14) how Christ sought out those who suffer; he healed a man who could not hear, and then the man was able hear the Good News of salvation.”
Bishop Cruz, 67, came from Cuba with his parents in 1966 when he was 12 years old. “God created us free...My parents brought me to this country, to this land, to live in freedom,” the bishop explained. “For many of us here, we have our own stories of pain and separation...Today I say thanks to God and thanks to this great country, the United States of America. In the year 1966, they opened the doors, and they took us in as refugees. As it is said in the Psalms, the Lord is my refuge, my rock, my strength.”
The end of the 18-minute homily was greeted with loud cheers and applause.
In Cuba, unprecedented protests broke out in July with many people demanding long-denied social liberties and expressing anger and frustration over economic and societal deteriorations, a situation worsened by the pandemic. This was followed by a large government crackdown with many arrests. In Miami, many in the large Cuban American community stood publicly in solidarity with fellow Cubans of the island.
Here in New York, the Cobre Mass this year at the cathedral served as a time and place for many Cubans in the metropolitan area to gather in prayer and solidarity, knowing there is an urgent significance given the dire unrest and violent crackdown that erupted in their beloved nation this summer.
Cecilia Soler, president of the archdiocesan Nuestra Señora de Caridad del Cobre Committee, was among readers during the Prayer of the Faithful, which included petitions for the betterment of the lives of people in Cuba. At one moment while she spoke, she was overcome with tearful emotion. Bishop Cruz then approached her and placed his left arm on her shoulder in a gentle gesture of comfort; and Mrs. Soler continued reading.
Later in closing remarks, Mrs. Soler delivered remarks of heartfelt gratitude for the Mass. Mrs. Soler, in an interview last month with Cathollic New York, said the sufferings of the past 62 years under the Cuban governmental regime has been “very painful, what has happened in Cuba and what is happening. My hope is that the regime ends, but there is much repression.”
After the Mass, as Mrs. Soler gave out flowers that had adorned a statue of Our Lady of Charity del Cobre at the altar steps. Junior Rodriguez, 52, was nearby and told CNY, “I’m Cuban and it (the homily) really got to my heart. I miss my country. I’ve been here for more than 25 years. Seeing all the recent events in Cuba, it breaks my heart; it is where I was born and raised. The message was really deep; it was very emotional...My father was a political prisoner in Cuba, He lives in Miami now.” Rodriguez is a parishioner of St. Ignatius of Loyola in Manhattan.
Also after the liturgy, Lourdes Garcia, a member of the Our Lady of Charity del Cobre Committee, told CNY, “It was a beautiful message from the bishop. It was emotional, it was for the Cuban community. He spoke from his heart as a Cuban refugee...I was a Marielita (Mariel boatlift from Cuba’s Mariel Harbor, 1980).”
The 4 p.m. Spanish-language liturgy was attended by about 800 people. Concelebrants included Msgr. Robert Ritchie, rector of the cathedral; Father Lorenzo Ato, communications director of archdiocesan Hispanic Ministry; and Father Brian McWeeney, director of ethnic apostolates and ecclesial movements.
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