Maribel Taveras, a parishioner of Holy Cross in the Bronx, is honored to have taken part in arranging for a replica of Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes (Our Lady of Mercy) made for her parish. The statue was formally presented May 1 during the 10:30 a.m. Spanish Sunday Mass.
“It was a wonderful Mass, powerful,” Ms. Taveras, born and raised in the Dominican Republic, told Catholic New York in Spanish in a recent interview. “It was something very special.” Our Lady of Mercy is the patroness of Spain and several Latin American countries, including the Dominican Republic. Holy Cross has a large Dominican population.
Ms. Taveras, 43, added, “This was something very important for me as a Dominican, and for many Dominicans here in the parish. We honor Our Lady of Altagracia (also patroness of the Dominican Republic). It is also important that we honor Our Lady of Mercy. And to have this statue here within the Archdiocese of New York, it is wonderful, special; during these times that we are living, we need Mary’s intercession more than ever.”
She noted that the word Mercedes in Spanish signifies “mercy, compassion and love,” adding, “I feel in my heart that the image, the statue will bring much (spiritual) freedom, much hope. All people can identify with her, not just Dominicans, because she is the Mother of Mercy.”
Father John Higgins, Holy Cross pastor, noted, “We have many parishioners from the Cibao region of the Dominican Republic; that’s where the famous shrine of Santo Cerro is. It is a pilgrimage destination where countless Dominicans go every year; the feast day is Sept. 24. The famous statue of Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes is located in the shrine on that holy hill.”
Father Higgins said devotees from the parish wanted to make an exact replica of La Virgen de las Mercedes; they commissioned an artist from Ecuador, Jorge Luis Villalba, who created the statue in his native land. The pastor said some girls and young women from the parish cut their locks to provide hair for the statue. “The artist did a beautiful job of making an exact replica,” said the pastor. “People have been overwhelmed with her perfect likeness here with us.”
The replica statue stands five feet, just like the original. Funds to pay the artist came from donations made by members of the parish’s Our Lady of Mercy Committee, and from the pastor. The artist worked on the project from July until December, and the statue was shipped from Ecuador to the Bronx in February.
Father Higgins presented the handmade, wooden replica statue at the May 1 Mass, at the end of the entrance procession. The liturgy was celebrated by Father Vincent Druding, parochial vicar, who also delivered the homily, which focused on the importance of praying to Mary under her title of Our Lady of Mercy. Father Druding blessed the statue after Communion.
“It was a wonderful, joyful celebration,” Father Higgins said. “Twenty-five years ago, Cardinal O’Connor sent a group of seven priests to the Dominican Republic to learn Spanish. I was one of them,” he added in recalling how his affinity began for the Caribbean nation, Our Lady of Mercy and Santo Cerro, the shrine on the holy hill.
The pastor continued, “What struck me was the incredible devotion to Our Lady under this title…In 2020, we had a special Mass in her honor on the feast day, Sept. 24. It was during the pandemic and I was struck by how many people came to the Mass. We had a large photograph (of Our Lady of Mercy) in a frame. Members of the committee said, ‘We’re going to have our own statue.’ And I said, ‘That’s great; let’s do it.’”
In the Dominican Republic, Our Lady of Mercy Day is celebrated each year on Sept. 24 and is considered to be a national and religious feast. Before leaving the island of Hispaniola, Christopher Columbus reportedly raised a cross atop a hill in the Cibao district.
In the year 1616, the swearing-in of the Patronage of la Virgen de las Mercedes was made in the Church of Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes in Santo Domingo, which was extended to the entire Dominican Republic, and the dedication to la Virgen de las Mercedes was proclaimed that same year. The colonial image of la Virgen de las Mercedes found on the altar of the church is taken out every Sept. 24, celebrating Our Lady of Mercy Day.
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