Cuban-Americans celebrate Our Lady of Charity in procession Tuesday

Procession consists of statue replica brought to Miami in 1961

MIAMI – The Virgin of Charity, a sacred icon of devotion and spirituality for Cubans, was celebrated Tuesday in Coconut Grove.

"For us, it's almost like a celebration of Cuba," one worshiper said.

Tuesday's procession consisted of a replica of the original statue, brought to Miami in 1961.

"I'm very devoted to her, and that's why we're here," Maria Fernandez said.

Fernandez and her father, Jose, migrated to Miami in 1963.

"She's our patron saint, who I have been devoted to since I was born," Jose Fernandez said.

"We always believe that she's the one that keeps them alive and brings them into this country of freedom," Maria Fernandez said while talking about Cuban migrants who cross the Florida Straits to come to the U.S.

"It's emotional and it's important to us," she said.

For many in the exile community, the saint also symbolizes a free Cuba.

Cachita, as she is affectionately known, is a national symbol for Cubans in the U.S. and on the island. The original statue remains in Cuba in a town called El Cobre.

For the first time in decades, state-run television in Cuba showed the mass celebrating Our Lady of Charity live on TV.

"They've been deprived of that for a long time, so it's about time they allow them," Maria Fernandez said.

Jose Fernandez said he hopes that Cuba returns to the way it used to be.

"I just think it's an advancement for the Catholicism in Cuba," Maria Fernandez said.

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