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Holy image makes stop at Kannapolis church

By Joanie Morris
Salisbury Post
KANNAPOLIS ó In the early 1600s, three Cuban youths were sent in search of salt to preserve meat for the copper miners of Santiago del Prado, Cuba.
The three ó two brothers and a 10-year-old slave ó were caught in a storm halfway across the bay. When the waters calmed, they saw a white bundle floating toward them ó a statue attached to a board inscribed with the words, “I am the Virgin of Charity.”
A shrine went up in her honor, and devotion to Our Lady of Charity spread throughout Cuba.
Fast-forward to the new millennium, and St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Kannapolis is now a recipient of the charity of that same saint.
The Rev. Alvaro Riquelme, a Redemptorist priest and the church’s pastor, joined his staff on Monday in unveiling the traveling framed picture of the patroness saint floating over the three boaters in the choppy waters.
The portrait was blessed by Pope Benedict XVI on July 11, 2007, and is one of many traveling across the United States this year as part of a program with the Knights of Columbus.
Riquelme said the picture will be at the church for at least three or four weeks, culminating in a district Mass sometime in early April.
“She is very much venerated by the Cuban nationals, the Cuban-Americans,” said Riquelme.
Olga Nuńez, a parishioner at the church, and also a Cuban-American, said the patroness saint of Cuba is very appropriate for the church to have.
“She intervenes with God for the people of Cuba,” said Nuńez. “She became a national symbol, almost compared to the flag.”
Nuńez said all Cubans, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, revere Our Lady of Charity because “this is for everyone.”
“We are our brother’s keepers,” Nuńez added.
After the three young men found the statue, Nuńez said the story goes that they took her to the church, where a shrine was built and Cubans looked to the Blessed Mother for charity.
At the request of the veterans of the War of Independence, Our Lady of Charity was declared the patroness of Cuba by Pope Benedict XV in 1916. The image was solemnly crowned in the Eucharistic Congress at Santiago de Cuba in 1936. Pope Paul VI raised her sanctuary to a basilica in 1977. Pope John Paul II solemnly crowned her again in 1998.
Nuńez was born and raised in Santiago, Cuba. When she was a young girl, in 1946, her family moved to the United States. Almost every year, Nuńez and her mother would travel back to Cuba to visit with family. They would take a large jar full of pennies and other change. “Every year, we would not leave Cuba without going to El Cobre and seeing Our Lady of Charity,” Nuńez said. While they were there, they would distribute the change they had collected through the year to the beggars, as well as donate to a collection for the sick and poor, Nuńez added. “It wasn’t much, but it helped. It did charity.”She was last in Cuba and last saw the statue in 1960.
Pete Devlin, a member of the Knights of Columbus at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, helped get the image of Our Lady of Charity to the church.
“Charity is our mainstay,” said Devlin about the Knights of Columbus. “Charity for each other. The Knights stand up for those who can’t.”
St. Joseph’s Catholic Church will host several Masses and other services while Our Lady of Charity is at the church, and the picture will be incorporated into many services there. There will also be an area Mass for Our Lady of Charity in early April, but the church has not set a final date.
Once the blessed image of Our Lady of Charity leaves Kannapolis in early April, it will go to one of the Catholic churches in Charlotte. Three blessed images aare traveling in North Carolina ó one for the western part of the state, one for the eastern part of the state and one for central North Carolina, where Kannapolis is located.
St. Joseph’s will have the image of Our Lady of Charity for so long because of the Easter holiday, said Riquelme. It is also the first church to receive the image since it was blessed in the Vatican City, Rome.
The image of Our Lady of Charity that is framed and blessed by Pope Benedict XVI to travel the United States came to the Knights of Columbus courtesy of the Temple of the Sagrario, Metropolitan Cathedral in Mexico City.
“I don’t consider it to be just another picture,” said Riquelme. She was blessed and visits St. Joseph’s “to bring forth more charity. We must be more charitable with one another. …
“It’s a true blessing from God,” said Riquelme. “We believe nothing happens by coincidence. It’s a wonderful blessing which will give our people a stronger devotion to Our Lady … and draw closer to Jesus. That’s what I believe.”
For more on the services at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, visit www.saintjosephcatholic.org or call the church at 704-932-4607.

Contact Joanie Morris at 704-932-3336 or jmorris@kannapoliscitizen.com.

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