Sometime in 1612, three young men set off in a rowboat off the coast of Cuba near El Cobre, a copper mining town. After weather- ing some stormy waters, they spot- ted something white in the distance that seemed to be floating upright on the surface. As they came closer, they realized that it was not in fact a bird, but a 16-inch tall statue of a woman in white. In one arm was the Child Jesus and in the other, the Cross. The plank to which the statue was secured read, “I am Our Lady of Charity.”
When they were to tell the story later, the men reported that despite the recent storm the clothing of the statue was entirely dry.
The image was displayed almost immediately and a shrine was built. Since that time the “Island Queen” has been venerated in Cuba by Catholics and atheists alike, as a symbol of unity and hope.
It is thought that the image most likely originated in Spain, in Toledo, and was brought over by some seafaring Spaniards. In the Philippines, Apo Caridad ng Bantay, also introduced by the Spanish centuries ago, is still enshrined at the Church in Bantay, Ilocos Sur in Northern Luzon.
Our CNMI connection to the virgin of Caridad (“Karidat” in Chamorro) came neither from the Caribbean nor the Philippines, but from Spain.
It all started in 2006 when Angie DeLeon Guerrerro was in her 11th year as director of Karidat Social Services (she would go on to serve 9 more years) when she traveled to northern Spain for the beatification of Mother Margarita Maria Maturana. While there, Angie visited a religious goods store and happened to notice a prayer card to Nuestra Seňora de la Caridad.
Catholic Social Services, here on Saipan, had been renamed as “Karidat” 15 years prior, but as yet did not have a patron. To Angie, the coincidence was too strong to ignore: “When I encountered Our Lady of Caridad, I realized that she represented the mission of Karidat and all that we aim to do,” she explained. Our Lady is a reminder to the marginalized and excluded that they have a mother who cares and watches over them.
In Cuba, the shrine became a pilgrimage destination and the town of El Cobre was the first place where black slaves (from the copper mines) first gained their freedom in 1886; here in Saipan, under her patronage, Karidat has had a share in defending those victimized by human trafficking, itself a form of modern-day slavery.
Upon returning to Saipan, Angie enlisted the help of two sisters of the Mer- cedarian community, Sr. Ana Maria Puyo and Sr. Mary Ann Becmer to translate the prayer card into English. Angie then made it a priority to distribute a card to each visitor to the Karidat offices. Thanks to Angie, today there is also a statue of Our Lady of Karidat displayed near the front doorway in the office in Chalan Piao.
Our Lady of Karidat is celebrated on “Mary’s Birthday,” the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed virgin Mary, on September 8th.
Our Lady of Karidat, pray for all of us.
Prayer to Our Lady of Karidat
O, Holy Virgin of Karidat, my Mother and sovereign lady, I come to kneel before you with great joy!
Virgin of miracles, as you were called by our elders, healer of the sick, comfort to those in d istress, give hope to the hopeless, keep families from all forms of misfortune, and protect all our young people and children.
No one is able to adequately acclaim the marvels you work every day for those who call upon you, as a sign of the trust and love you have for your children.
Venerable Virgin of Karidat, be always the wellspring of all grace. Amen.
More fun facts about devotion to Our Lady of Charity:
- The Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd (known in its shortened version as the “Good Shepherd Sisters”) has had a presence in Guam and Saipan for years and many of you have known Sr. Stella, Sr. Carol, Sr. Miriam and Sr. Lioba.
- Ernest Hemingway mentions her in “The Old Man and the Sea,” and donated his Nobel Prize medal to the shrine at El Cobre, Cuba.
- The Smithsonian National Museum of American History has a Barbie doll dressed as the Virgin of Charity by