On the second day of our pilgrimage, upon leaving Santiago de Cuba and attending Mass where our Holy Father, Benedict XVI venerated the image of the Virgin of Charity I decided to find a painting of our Holy Mother, Virgin of Charity, Patroness of all the Cuban people.
The beautiful history about how the Virgin of Charity was discovered is one of the many ways our Holy Mother brings her message of love into the whole world.
In the year 1612 two Indians (Juan and Rodrigo de Hoyos) and a young black slave boy (Juan Moreno) went to sea looking for salt. Using a fragile and small canoe they were crossing the Cuban Bay of Nipe, and close to Cayo Frances they noticed, floating over the tranquil waters, after a raging storm, a singular object . They rowed the canoe towards it, and before their surprised eyes the new morning light showed them the image of Virgin Mary. They carefully took her from the waters, and upon doing so, noticed that Mary was holding a beautiful Baby Jesus and a Holy Cross.
In spite of the heavy storm that raged the previous night, Mary’s clothing were dry and she was being kept afloat by a fragile wooden board upon which they could read: “I am the Virgin of Charity”
They took her to the herding place of Barajagua and everyone, upon seeing her were filled with joy. Later the General Administrator of Mines, Captain Sanchez de Moya, requested that Franciscan friar Francisco Molina investigate how all this could have happened. The friar upon looking at the beautiful image and after listening to the story, thanked God and had her taken in procession towards the mining town of “El Cobre”. There, amidst songs and prayers, she was placed in one of the towns parish altars. She is now the Patroness of Cuba and Pope Benedict the XVI has visited Cuba and Mexico as the “Pilgrim Of Charity”.
The two Papal Masses held in Santiago de Cuba and Havana on March 26 and 28 had hundreds of thousands in attendance, not counting the thousands that lined the streets waiting to get a glimpse of the Popemobile as it made it‘s way towards and from each Mass. In a similar way the streets where once more lined up, in spite of the rain, waiving and exchanging goodbyes with the Holy Father as he made his way towards the airport.
So I took to the streets of Old Havana and peered into the stores where artists displayed their carvings and paintings. “Do you have a painting of The Virgin of Charity?”, I asked; but all I was able to find were depictions of Che Guevara, Fidel Castro and other themes related to life in present Cuba.
In Havana you can get around by calling a regular taxi, or you can resort to a “moto-taxi” a motorized version of a rickshaw using a motorbike as the driving mechanism. The lowest form of transportation and cheapest is the “tricycle-taxi” another version of a rickshaw driven by a man pedaling his way around town.
One shop owner told me to go to the San Jose (Saint Joseph) Market only ten minutes away by tricycle-taxi. I was pointed to a tricycle driven by a slim brawny young man playing Cuban music in a loud radio. “I will take you señor” he said. “I will wait for you and drive you back to the cathedral square” (where I was to attend Mass celebrated by Monsignor Wensky, Archbishop of Miami, in about 90 minutes.).
“It will cost you 10 CUCs”
(Cuban convertible currency, about 9 US dollars). So I decided to go off for the tricycle ride.
“What are you looking for?” asked the thin brawny driver with the loud radio.
“I want to buy a painting of the Virgin of Charity“
“That is a strange coincidence“, he replied; “for I myself, am devoted to the Virgin of Charity.“. And upon saying so pulled from a chain tied to his chest, a beautiful, old worn by time, bronze medallion of the Virgin of Charity with an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the reverse side.
“Beautiful”, I said, “You are blessed to have such a lovely medallion. It will protect you in all your days”
He replied, “It comes from my father and his father before him; I will sell to you sir”,
I answered, taken by surprise: “I cannot accept, it is your blessing”
So the slim brawny driver with the loud radio “tricycled” me through the colorful pot filled streets of old worn down by storm, poverty filled with stout and gentle, music loving people of Havana.
And he took me through the stores of the sprawling San Jose Market where all things Cuban can be found.
He walked briskly, chatting with the vendors, many of them his friends, asking for a painting of the Virgin. We found several paintings, one was too big but beautiful indeed; another was in a modern style which did not appeal to me as I wanted something closer to the original, venerable image I had seen in the Church of Santiago de Cuba. Finally on a store at the very end of the market I found the beloved painting. “It is only 35 CUCs”, said the lady owner. I paid and she rolled and packaged it for me.
So we went back ”tricycle taxi riding” down the streets of Old Havana, on our way to the Cathedral with plenty of time to spare before the celebration of mass was to start. And we arrived close to the Cathedral Square.
He took the medallion from it’s chain and said: “You must take it señor; I have had a bad day and I will sell it to you for only five CUCs”
I was astonished at his plea and replied: “ I will take it for ten CUCs” This seemed to over joy him and so I exchanged the old medallion, given him by his father and grandfather for the meager amount of ten CUCs.
“Take good care of it señor”, he said as we shook hands.
“I will”, I replied.
I never asked for the name of the slim brawny tricycle driving, loud radio playing man. I regret not having asked for his name, may the Blessed Virgin protect him all the days of his life.