Journey to La Divina Pastora in Siparia today
By SEETA PERSAD Friday, April 6 2012
The southern town of Siparia will be abuzz with activity today as thousands flock to the La Divina Pastora RC Church for the traditional mass and all day service. Holy Mother to both Hindus and Christians, many will make the journey to present offerings at the feet of the statue in hopes of having their prayers answered. Mass begins at 6 am with a procession of the statue at 10 am.
Hindus pay homage to the La Divina Pastora, as Sopari Mai, a healer, a patron of the poor, a miracle worker. Through the years many people have testified to being healed by the Divine Shepherdess. Many who suffered from chronic diseases and those who suffer from strokes will make the journey to give charity and offer flowers to this Goddess.
Yesterday (Holy Thursday), the copper-coloured statue of La Divina was removed from the scared shrine of the church and placed inside the conference room to accommodate the Hindu devotees who journey to the church to pay homage to the saint.
History has it that the Virgin Mary, under the title of La Divina Pastora, or the Divine Shepherdess, was brought to Siparia by a group of Catholic Capuchin missionaries who chose the area because it was a traditional meeting place of the Orinoco Indians.
According to local historian, Theresa Noel, the impact of the La Divina Pastora on local society cannot be understated since the statue is venerated by not only Catholics during the feast days, but by Hindus who also perform pilgrimages to the Church on Holy Thursday and Good Friday.
In 2007 Noel presented her findings during a panel discussion titled, “La Divina Pastora, Mother of all Peoples” at the La Divina Pastora RC Church.
Her work titled “A history of devotions of La Divina Pastora,” traced the church’s intercession to the Virgin Mary to Seville, Spain, in 1703, when a Capuchin monk took the tradition to Venezuela in 1715 and later to Trinidad with the establishment of a mission in Siparia. The Feast of La Divina Pastora took the form of a Mass, a procession through the streets of Siparia, benediction, followed by “merry-making”. The arrival of East Indian indentured labourers, another distinct celebration was started when the labourers came out to show respect for this statue which they named Sopari Mai (Mother of Siparia). Due to intense prayer and devotion to this Holy Mother many found relief and soon the word spread and the entire country got involved in the worship of La Divina Pastora.Noel gave an account also of the Chinese immigrants who also developed a devotion to La Divina Pastora in the 1850s, and actively participated during the fete days by playing San Chee and Mah Jong.
Fr Theodore of the RC Church said they had undergone an evolution in their views of non-Christian celebrations using Christian saints and places of worship.
He said while the Church had previously viewed non-Christian traditions with condemnation, the church had now adopted a more open attitude to the non-Christian religions.
He said the Catholic Church now saw non-Christian religions as another means of gaining the right position with God.
Allison McLethie who holds a Masters degree in anthropology from Georgia University in the US, said to the La Divina Pastora shrine viewed themselves not as Hindu or Catholic, East Indian or African, but as Trinidadians who believed the La Divina Pastora was for everyone.
Church co-ordinator Vena Fermin said the influx of worshippers to the church continued to grow annually. She said people who prayed to Mother La Divina Pastora were always pleased because she granted their wishes. She said she started sewing dresses for the statue eight years ago. “Mother (La Divina Pastora) worked a miracle for me...Here is a place of miracles,” Fermin said. Most of the worshippers make offerings of money, rice, olive oil and flowers. In addition, several parents brought their...
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