The Miami Catholic who has cared for La Ermita de la Caridad (Our Lady of Charity, Cuba’s patron saint) for 30 years

Via Catholic San Francisco:

For 30 years, Miami Catholic has watched over image of Cuba’s patroness

On Sept. 8, hundreds of Catholics from Cuba and other Latin American countries are expected to gather at the University of Miami to mark the annual feast of Our Lady of Charity, patroness of Cuba.

But probably no one knows more about Our Lady of Charity than Rogelio Zelada.

He has composed hymns in her honor, written about her, restored and dressed her image and made other images of her. For more than 30 years, Zelada has been the custodian of the image at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Charity in Miami.

Zelada is associate director for Hispanic formation in the archdiocesan Office of Lay Ministry, as well as a member of the executive committee of the National Hispanic Institute of Liturgy. He also has served on the U.S. bishops’ Subcommittee on Divine Worship in Spanish.

He arrived in Miami from Puerto Rico after leaving Cuba in 1980. When Miami’s late, beloved auxiliary bishop, Agustin A. Roman, rector of the shrine, learned of Zelada’s work, he asked him to restore the image housed at the shrine in preparation for St. John Paul II’s visit in 1987.

The image had arrived in the U.S. from Cuba in 1961 and had never been restored. The paint had faded and the garments were damaged.

The restoration transformed the image, Zelada said, noting: “The dress has to convey, symbolically, what the image represents. It’s not just about dressing her. The dress is the Virgin. The dress must transmit the religious feeling, the love, the strength. The beauty of the image must transmit the beauty of Mary.”

Nearly all the patronesses of Latin America wear dresses atop images that are quite plain. Many of these images are very famous but would be unrecognizable without their dresses.

Zelada commissions seamstresses to make the dresses because he can’t sew — but he knows how images from earlier times were dressed. When he commissions a garment, he tries to imbue it with meaning, something related to the life of Mary or the history of Cuba. “I give the idea, but I also leave it up to the creativity of the seamstress,” he said.

He currently has several people sewing dresses with the idea to keep several in reserve, because, as he said, it’s hard to find “people who have the patience, good taste and skill to do it.”

For the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the image’s arrival in Miami in 2021, Zelada has commissioned a special dress from a group of nuns in Spain made of “satin that is used for the outfits of bullfighters, with gold embroidery.”

This year’s dress is made of old-gold lace with amber rhinestones. Every dress is a work of art that can’t be exposed to the elements, Zelada explained, because light causes the fabric to deteriorate.

“The idea is for her to wear a new dress each September 8,” he said, then switch to an older one for special occasions such as Holy Week, Pentecost and Christmas.

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