At St. Patrick’s Cathedral for the annual Our Lady of Altagracia Mass, retired Auxiliary Bishop Octavio Cisneros of the Diocese of Brooklyn told the faithful to always remember the importance of social unity and respect for life in all its forms.
Jan. 21 is the feast day of Our Lady of Altagracia, the patroness of the Dominican Republic.
“On this day we remember Our Lady of Altagracia, and we give thanks to the Lord,” said Bishop Cisneros in remarks at the start of Mass Jan. 17.
He spoke about the significance of racial unity and social justice, noting that the next day was Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
“And we all offer prayers for the right to life, the dignity of all human beings,” he added, alluding to the Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children, Jan. 22.
During his homily, Bishop Cisneros spoke fondly of his visits over the years to the Dominican Republic, both pastoral journeys and social trips, meeting Church and government leaders. “It was in the Dominican Republic that I first met St. John Paul II,” the bishop said.
During his visits, Bishop Cisneros said “the faith of the Dominican people, and the joy of the Dominican people” both were evident. He said the people have a deep Marian faith and love of family “based on devotion to Our Lady of Altagracia...She lives in the hearts of Dominicans wherever they are, like here in New York, in the Bronx, in Upper Manhattan, in Brooklyn, in Queens.”
Bishop Cisneros, who is Cuban-born, noted that the image of Our Lady of Altagracia includes St. Joseph and the Baby Jesus. He said the Dominican people are known for their joy and fondness for family gatherings with lots of food and music such as merengue. All this, he said, stems from their strong faith.
The bishop also mentioned the current difficult times in the United States stemming from “the pandemic, quarantines, and social and political tensions,” and noted the significance of having strong faith in God and responding to the Lord’s call and instructions.
In welcoming remarks at the start of Mass, Cardinal Dolan said, “I love Our Lady of Altagracia. I visited her shrine in the Dominican Republic. I will always remember it. So it’s a joy for me to honor her with all of you.
“In a particular way I love the image of Our Lady of Altagracia, because St. Joseph, San Jose, is there in the background looking over his wife Mary and his foster son, Jesus.
“This is the year of St. Joseph, so in a particular way we salute him as we honor Our Lady of Altagracia. Que viva la Virgen de Altagracia.”
The cardinal’s words were greeted with loud applause and cheers from the faithful, who replied, “Que viva!”
Among congregants at the Mass was Consuelo Rosa, 49, a parishioner of St. Michael parish on West 34th Street in Manhattan.
“I am very grateful, and I was surprised and glad,” Ms. Rosa, born in the Dominican Republic, told Catholic New York before Mass, alluding to the wide extent of archdiocesan support in honoring Our Lady of Altagracia. She learned about that support firsthand after immigrating to New York from the Dominican Republic three years ago.
Joining her were her daughter, Yanely Polanco Rosa, 30, and Ms. Polanco Rosa’s daughter Emma, 3. “We are so far from our country. So it is a good feeling for us that the Mass is celebrated here the way it is celebrated in the Dominican Republic,” Ms. Polanco Rosa said. “We feel the support (from the archdiocese). And we feel the unity here within the Dominican community.”
Ms. Rosa and her daughter said they have a distant relative who died recently of the coronavirus, and that several family friends have contracted the virus. They said they often pray to the Lord and for the intercession of Our Lady of Altagracia for the pandemic to end soon.
The 48th annual Our Lady of Altagracia Mass was presented in simpler fashion due to restrictions and precautions related to the Covid-19 pandemic. About 300 people attended, instead of the usual attendance of 1,500 to 1,800.
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