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December 27, 2021, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic – During the time of year that focuses on the birth of Jesus, Sister Carol Gross, OP, gave a live stream presentation on a central figure of the nativity: Mary, the mother of Jesus and our mother.
Sister Carol’s talk, “Devotion to Mary in Latin America,” was presented on December 9, 2021, the day after the patronal feast of the United States, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and three days before the December 12 Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, who is especially revered in Mexico and by many Hispanic people in the United States.
The talk was part of a series of presentations organized by the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Spirituality Committee. Sister Carol spoke from her home in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
Sister Carol described in general the Marian piety of many of the people of Latin America and the Caribbean – a popular piety involving the heart. In times of need, she said, this devotion to Mary “soothes pain and strengthens hope – the loving, healing, consoling power of God or God’s mother, who is the stand-in for God at the center of Latin American culture.”
Throughout the centuries, Sister Carol said, Mary has appeared to suffering people in a variety of images – suited to the people of a particular culture to help them to understand God’s love for them. “Myths and legends attributed to an icon of Mary speak to the needs of the people,” she explained.
Sister Carol highlighted a number of images of Mary that are popular in various parts of Latin America and the Caribbean.
Our Lady of Altagracia (“high grace”) is the cultural image of Mary in the Dominican Republic. She is known as the Protectress of the Dominican Republic, Sister Carol added. The image was originally brought home by a merchant to his daughter in the Dominican Republic. A basilica now houses the image, and about 8,000 people visit the basilica every year. On January 21, the Feast of Our Lady of Altagracia, people who cannot visit the basilica take part in Masses, novenas, and processions at their home parishes.
Our Lady of Guadalupe: Mary appeared as a pregnant Aztec woman in 1531 to St. Juan Diego, an Aztec who had converted to the Catholic faith, at Tepeyac Hill near Mexico City. Because of her appearance, Sister Carol said, “The native people of Mexico began to recognize the Catholic faith. They say, ‘This virgin looks like us. She is ours and we are hers.’” The Patroness of the Americas, Our Lady of Guadalupe “is our mother,” Sister Carol said. “As a mother she understands, relates, protects, listens, comforts.”
The Immaculate Conception: Mary, under the title of the Immaculate Conception, is the Patroness of the United States and of other countries, such as Nicaragua, who revere her as La Purisima, the most pure one, Sister Carol said. At sundown on December 7, the eve of the feast, people in Nicaragua “flood into the streets in groups, singing hymns to La Purisima,” Sister Carol said. The feast refers to Mary’s conception without original sin, not to the conception of Jesus.
Learn more about various Marian devotions in Latin America in the recording of Sister Carol’s presentation, found below.
November 30, 2017, San Turce, Puerto Rico – Sister Donna Markham, OP, President and CEO of Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA), presented $3 million to help the local relief agency, Caritas, in its efforts to aid people affected by Hurricane Maria. During her visit, she took the opportunity to tour the devastation left by the hurricane.
“The situation is extremely dire,” especially for people who lived in wooden houses, which were destroyed, Sister Donna said. Along with the massive devastation, the ongoing power outage makes it impossible for people to cook.
“We’re trying to provide people with camping stoves, generators, water, and food – anything that will help them to survive.” She also believes that much of CCUSA’s funds will be spent to help find safe housing for the elderly and others who are vulnerable.
Sister Donna explained that, while she had traveled to Puerto Rico alone, case managers, disaster coordinators, and other CCUSA staff were already on the ground. CCUSA is the official disaster relief agency of the U.S. Catholic Church.
CCUSA also worked with other organizations to offer support to the people of Puerto Rico. Home Depot helped with a grant to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands to assist with rebuilding. The Houston Astros loaned CCUSA an airplane to fly supplies to Puerto Rico. “People have been very generous,” Sister Donna noted.
Sister Donna also hoped to visit the Virgin Islands, which was even harder hit than Puerto Rico. CCUSA has given the relief effort of the Virgin Islands $2 million in donations. In addition, $7 million in donations was given to the relief efforts in Houston and Corpus Christi, Texas, and $6 million for efforts in Florida.
CCUSA has received much public support for its relief efforts, as well as its ongoing efforts to fight poverty and to “serve people in need, with special concern for those who are the poorest and most vulnerable in society,” according to its website. The organization recently received a donation of $1,500 from students at Blessed Sacrament School in Alexandria, Virginia, for relief efforts in Puerto Rico.
CCUSA has also received national recognition from NASDAQ. Charles C. Cornelio, Chair of the CCUSA Board of Trustees, was invited to ring the opening bell on Giving Tuesday, November 28.