A Sept. 16 Mass commemorating the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the small statue of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, the patroness of Cuba, was a welcome celebration for the 1,200 in attendance — even those who attended by accident. “We are so lucky to be here,” said Delia Contreras, who attended the Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels with her friend Rosa Sanchez. Both parishioners at Sacred Heart Church, Altadena, the women were unaware that the solemn Mass was scheduled for that day. Contreras had simply made the trip to allow her friend to admire the cathedral. “It’s such a special celebration,” Contreras said. Archbishop José Gomez, who presided, spoke in similar terms. “It is a special joy for me to be with all of you to give thanks for the protection of our Blessed Mother,” he declared at the start of the Mass.Four centuries ago, three young men paddled out from what is now Cuba’s Bay of Nipe and spotted something floating on the water, at last ascertaining that it was a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. A small sign declared: “I am the Virgin of Charity.” The trio brought the statue back with them. It is now in the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity of Cobre in Santiago, Cuba, which Pope Benedict XVI visited earlier this year. This year’s anniversary Mass drew more than have attended in recent years. The archdiocese-wide Mass is celebrated each year in a different Los Angeles location. The last time it was at the Cathedral was 10 years ago, the first Spanish Mass celebrated in the Cathedral.“We’ve been praying for this and [working on] this for about a year,” said Juan Zuazola from the Agrupación Católica Cubana Caridad del Cobre, which organizes the annual Mass. (Though the feast day of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre is Sept. 8, the archdiocesan celebration is usually held the third Sunday of September.)“We all love the Virgin Mary, and love our version of the Virgin Mary from El Cobre,” Zuazola added. “We understand it’s the same Virgin Mary, the one and only — but she has many different faces, and this is one of them.”The motto of this year’s celebration was “La Caridad Nos Une,” interpreted in two ways: “Charity unites us,” or “The Blessed Mother unites us,” since “La Caridad” is an affectionate nickname for this particular Marian appellation. And it was unity that Archbishop Gomez emphasized in his homily and throughout the Mass. The Blessed Mother reminds us of “the rich treasure that we share in our family of God,” he pointed out. “She comes to bring us to Christ; Jesus leaves her to us as our mother. We are all children of God,” he said. “We are all brothers and sisters in Christ — brothers and sisters of Jesus.” Father Marcos Gonzales, who left his Cuban homeland when he was just nine years old, said the Mass was the perfect way to draw attendees’ attention to the Year of Faith, which begins Oct. 11. “We’re really hoping this anniversary brings about a spiritual renewal of the Cuban community, and throughout the world,” explained the pastor of St. John Chrysostom in Inglewood “As we begin the Year of Faith, it’s a wonderful opportunity to deepen their understanding of the faith, and their practice of the faith,” he said. For Contreras and Sanchez — whose heritage is Mexican—the Mass also brought to mind the sufferings of their Cuban brothers and sisters, those who have struggled to flee Communist Cuba and begin a new life, and those left behind in the island nation. “They hold to their beliefs,” said Contreras with deep admiration, speaking of the Cuban community’s love for Our Lady of Charity. “That’s really something.” {gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2012/0921/cuba/{/gallery}