On Sunday, November 14, I attended the Spanish Mass at St. Philip Benizi Church, where the liturgy was devoted to the celebration of Our Lady of Divine Providence.
Since 1989 the Puerto Rican community at the Jonesboro parish has annually honored the Blessed Virgin, who was declared the patroness of Puerto Rico by Pope Paul VI back on November 19, 1969.
Franciscan Father Abelardo Huanca, St. Philip Benizi parochial vicar, was the main celebrant and homilist for the Mass. He was also joined by fellow Franciscans Father John Koziol, pastor, and parochial vicar Father Michael Kolodziej. Deacons Joseph Anzalone, Peter Swan, Etienne Rodriguez and Julio Martinez were also on hand. Rodriguez and Martinez are Puerto Rican natives.
This year’s Our Lady of Divine Providence Mass and celebration was coordinated through the efforts of Father Huanca, Hispanic pastoral assistant Maria Torres and parishioner Haydee Santiago. It was also dedicated to the memory of Deacon Martinez’s late wife Minerva (affectionately know as Minnie). Minerva died on Oct. 16. She was a member of the Our Lady of Divine Providence planning committee, as well as a singer in the Spanish choir.
Speaking of the Spanish choir, they were great. There were 10 vocalists and 11 instrumentalists and percussionists. Choir members wore stoles with an image of the Puerto Rican flag and buttons bearing the face of Minerva Martinez. If music can be described as both spiritual and festive, that’s how the sound added to the liturgy.
The music continued at the reception that followed the Mass, and while the people listened, they shared a meal that consisted of roast pork, rice and pigeon peas, green bananas (marinated in olive oil, with onion and a tad of garlic), salad, flan, and cake.
I covered my first Our Lady of Providence Mass at St. Philip Benizi in November 1997. Bishop Enrique Hernández Rivera, the bishop of the Diocese of Caguas, Puerto Rico at the time, was the main celebrant and homilist.
As history points out, the Marian devotion to Our Lady of Divine Providence originated in Italy, spread to France and Spain and was introduced to Puerto Rico in the early 1850s.
I had an opportunity to kneel before the shrine of Our Lady of Divine Providence in San Juan’s cathedral in 2009, so last Sunday’s Mass brought it full circle for me.
Today, November 19, marks the feast day of Our Lady of Divine Providence. “Dios te salve Maria, llena eres de gracia” (Hail Mary Full Of Grace).
Michael Alexander, Staff Photographer