At Our Lady of Altagracia Mass, Cardinal Invited to Dominican Republic


Cardinal Dolan, celebrating the annual Our Lady of Altagracia Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, said he hoped to accept an invitation to visit the Dominican Republic. Our Lady of Altagracia is the patroness of the Caribbean nation.  

The invitation came near the end of the homily by Bishop Jesús Castro Marte of the Diocese of Our Lady of Altagracia in Higüey, Dominican Republic. Cardinal Dolan thanked the bishop after the homily, and said he hoped to be able to go. 

Both the invitation and the cardinal’s response were met with cheers and loud applause from the 1,200 people attending the afternoon Spanish Mass Jan. 16. 

The invitation stemmed from the celebration of the Jubilee of Our Lady of Altagracia, 100 years since the canonical coronation of the historical portrait of Mary in a Nativity scene on Aug. 15, 1922. The yearlong celebration in the Dominican Republic and New York began last August.    

“My profound greetings to all who are present to celebrate the Mass for the patroness of the Dominican Republic, Our Lady of Altagracia,” said the cardinal in opening remarks in which he cited the yearlong jubilee celebration. 

The cardinal also thanked Bishop Castro for his visit to New York and welcomed him as the homilist. 

In the homily, Bishop Castro first expressed his sincere condolences to the families of the victims of the Jan. 9 deadly apartment building fire in the Bronx, which killed 17 residents. He cited the importance of Christian faith and hope. “And there is our strength,” said the bishop in expressing prayerful solidarity.

The bishop also spoke of the significance of personal and Church renewal, of praying for intercessions from Mary, and how, together with her, we must always remember to give thanks to God for our blessings. He spoke of his gratitude and joy in knowing how for decades people from his beloved Dominican Republic have been welcomed by the Church in New York, an archdiocese that has long accompanied the Dominican community in honoring Our Lady of Altagracia.

Bishop Castro talked about the importance of “recognizing signs from the Lord” in our lives,  alluding to the first reading, from Isaiah 7: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign; the young woman, pregnant and about to bear a son, shall name him Emmanuel. Curds and honey he will eat so that he may learn to reject evil and choose good.” 

Closing remarks were made by Ana Ozuna, president of the archdiocesan Our Lady of Altagracia Committee, and by Father Ambiorix Rodriguez, pastor of St. Elizabeth parish in Washington Heights. Father Rodriguez, a native of the Dominican Republic, seconded the invitation from Bishop Castro to Cardinal Dolan. 

Two framed Our Lady of Altagracia images from the Diocese of Our Lady of Altagracia in Higüey were presented for the cardinal to bless. One is to be given to the Diocese of Brooklyn, and the other to the Archdiocese of Hartford. 

Our Lady of Altagracia is a portrait of the Virgin Mary in a Nativity scene painted circa 1500 and kept in a basilica in Higüey. Her feast day is Jan. 21.

The original portrait was crowned twice: on Aug. 15, 1922 during the pontificate of Pius XI; and by Pope John Paul II, who personally crowned the portrait with a golden silver tiara during his visit to Santo Domingo Jan. 25, 1979. 

Last August, Father Rodriguez returned from the Dominican Republic with a replica of the original painting of Our Lady of Altagracia. The pilgrim image has been transported to parishes in the Archdiocese of New York, and the pilgrimage will continue until next summer. More than 40 parishes are expected to participate. 

The replica came from Church leaders in the Dominican Republic as a gift to the archdiocesan Committee of Our Lady of Altagracia. The pilgrim image was on display during the Jan. 16 Mass, as well as a special cathedral Mass Oct. 24, commemorating the 100-year jubilee.

Pedro Madera, 63, was among many Dominicans proudly waving Dominican flags after Mass. He is a parishioner of St. Anselm-St. Roch in the Bronx. “It was super excellent,” Madera told Catholic New York, referring to the Mass celebration and the inspirational homily.