On the night of my first Mass almost ten years ago, I found a gift waiting for me in the church. Bishop Roman had sent the pilgrim Virgin of Charity from the National Shrine to accompany me as I offered the Eucharist for the first time. This image was to travel from parish to parish throughout the Archdiocese that year on the occasion of the 100th Anniversary of the founding of the Cuban Republic, but he sent it to my parish first for the most important day of my life. It is was a gift and an honor that I have never forgotten, for it was on that Mother’s Day Eve that my mother and I placed a dozen roses at the feet of our Blessed Mother in thanksgiving for my priesthood.
Last night, this same image of Our Lady of Charity visited my parish up here in Broward as it travels around the Archdiocese this week so that people can pray for the success of the Holy Father’s trip to Mexico and Cuba in the coming days. We offered Mass and said a rosary with her at our side. As I was helping to carry her into the church, which is an honor I have never had, I began to get emotional because here we were, Mary and me, reunited once again after ten years of the two of us traveling like pilgrims around the Archdiocese spreading the love and joy of her Son. I said during the homily that Mary is the model of hope for each of us during this Lenten season, and as the Pope travels to Cuba next week to visit her in her tiny shrine in El Cobre, he carries with him the hopes and prayers of a people longing to be free. We prayed that the Holy Father’s message may tear down walls, not political walls, although that may be a byproduct of the freedom of Christ’s message, but the walls of many hearts who are closed off to this liberating message of the Gospel. I knelt before our Blessed Mother and asked her to protect the Pope, to inspire him, and to let the Holy Spirit speak through him. Our Lady of Charity was found 400 years ago after saving three young men from a storm. May her people see her and the glorious face of her Son in the midst of this storm, and may she lead her people to the calm waters of peace and freedom.