The Virgin Mary of Charity or la Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre has been the guiding light of the Cuba since 1628, when she first appeared to three fishermen from the province of Santiago. She is commonly depicted holding baby Jesus in her left hand and a golden cross in her right, hovering above three fishermen traveling through turbulent waters.
She has also become an important figure to the Cuban exile community, who continue to look to her for guidance and protection since fleeing the island nation, and in North Hudson her faithful find their home at Casa de la Caridad, 3333 Hudson Ave., Union City. This is the official local capilla or chapel to the patron mother of Cuba.
"Our holy mission is to continue devotion to the Virgin Mother, support the Hispanic community in a sacred and religious life, as well as realize pastoral activities that instill the spiritual teachings of the Apostolic Roman Catholic Church," said Ana Teresa Serrano, president and director of the Cofradia Arquidiosesana del la Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, the archdiocesan fellowship of the Virgin Mary of Charity.
This fellowship represents the Casa de la Caridad, and the annual September procession.
Bring their faith to the states
North Hudson is home to a melting pot of Hispanic American communities, and has one of the highest Cuban immigrant populations in the country.
During the mass exodus in the '60s, many Cuban immigrants made their homes in Union City, which at one time was said to have the second largest Cuban community in the nation; the first being Miami, FL.
Never forgetting their heavenly mother for bringing them safely to the states, the Cuban community wanted to honor and continue their devotion of her despite the fact that they were no longer in their homeland.
The first procession, which became an annual tradition for the North Hudson community, was held in 1967 at St. Michael's Monastery, located on Summit Avenue and 21st Street, which encircled the monastery and was led by a large statuette of the Blessed Mother.
Then in 1977, "the community decided they wanted their own house of worship to the Virgin," said Serrano.
Casa de la Caridad (House of the Lady Charity) opened on Hudson Avenue and the procession was moved to Bergenline Avenue with a beautiful new image of the blessed mother, which was brought from Cuba and blessed by Cardinal Arteaja Ibetancourp and led the way to a special service at Roosevelt Stadium.
The community wanted a similar chapel to the one in Miami, which is called Ermita de la Caridad. The chapel in Miami is renowned and considered the national sanctuary for the patron mother, and is visited by many different Latino communities.
The community selected the site on Hudson Avenue, and what started out with a few regulars turned into a congregation of hundreds, who join the annual procession that is now entering its 40th year.
"This marks 40 years of uninterrupted procession," said Serrano.
Celebrating 40 years
This upcoming September will mark the 40th anniversary of the procession, which used to run down Bergenline Avenue and end at Union City's Roosevelt Stadium, which has since been demolished.
Last year, the procession went to Miller Stadium in West New York.
Casa de la Caridad will also be looking forward to much needed renovations to their house of worship, and hosting a series of activities leading up to the procession including their annual evening gala.
There was also a special service held at the chapel at the beginning of January to bless the New Year.
"We wanted to begin 2007 by presenting our Blessed Virgin to all her children, and that their parents be blessed in a beautiful service offered by the Rev. Monsignor Federico Eid, which was celebrated on January 6 in celebration of the Epiphany of the Lord," said Serrano.
This year's procession, usually held the first week of September, will once again hold services in Miller Stadium, which every year gathers from 1,000 to 1,500 faithful. Many come to the chapel beforehand to see the image, which is about 2 feet high; 4 feet with the boat.
The statue is carried on the shoulders of 12 men, who are part of the League de la Caridad.
Their main project, however, in the months to come will be to renovate and expand the already existing chapel, and hopefully create the same home and following as the widely recognized capilla in Miami.
"Casa de la Caridad is actually the property of the Archdiocese of Newark, and we have been waiting for permission and funding to proceed," said Orestes Ibiricu, vice president of the Cofraida. "We now have permission to start fixing and this January we should be able to start. We are expecting a lot of support from the community, and we will try to keep the doors to the chapel open during the renovations."
Among some of the renovations they will be working on is expanding the front entrance, as well as including elevator access to the second floor.
They want to expand the existing sanctuary as well, which currently holds 60 to 70 people, and up to 80 with outside seating for certain events.
A new library will also be completed on the second floor, which has been donated by a Brother Eduardo Barros of the Brothers of La Salle of Cuba. Brother Barros donated dozens of books on the history of Cuba.
"Hopefully the library will be named after him," said Ibiricu.
Funding for the renovations has been raised by donations from parishioners and other sponsors, as well as through the chapel's fundraising events like the annual evening gala before the procession.
"We want to thank all our sponsors and donators, who have been so cooperative," said Serrano.