Our Lady of Altagracia is a symbol of unity and an example of unwavering faith for the Dominican Republic and its people, said Auxiliary Bishop Carlos Tomás Morel Diplan of the Archdiocese of Santiago de los Caballeros to the 900 faithful attending the annual Mass honoring Our Lady of Altagracia in St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Bishop Diplan was the principal celebrant and homilist of the Jan. 12 liturgy.
The Mass is a demonstration of faith and nationalism. Flags and symbols of Dominican culture adorned the steps of the sanctuary. People waved hand-held flags during the opening and closing processions, and many were dressed in blue, red and white.
The feast day for Our Lady of Altagracia, the patroness of the Dominican Republic, is Jan. 21. This year’s cathedral Mass was offered Jan. 12, as per the Mass committee and the archdiocesan Hispanic Ministry office, to avoid conflicting with parish celebrations across the archdiocese.
At the beginning of his homily, Bishop Diplan urged the Blessed Mother to intercede on behalf of the families of the Dominican Republic. The first two weeks of 2020 have seen five reported murders of women at the hands of their spouses or boyfriends in the Caribbean nation.
“Our homes are the foundations of our morals,” Bishop Diplan said. “Disrespect and the physical mistreatment of women who are our mothers, sisters, wives, aunts should not be tolerated.”
Bishop Diplan also spoke about the worldwide crisis attacking faith and morals. There are too many distractions and not enough time for God, the bishop said.
“We talk about living in a free world, and we love our freedom, but there are too many people that are living in slavery and they are oblivious to it. They are slaves to pleasures, power and wants. I pray for those to find true liberty from their own arrogance, pride and ego,” Bishop Diplan said.
He suggested the Dominicans assembled in the cathedral should emulate the faith in the same unconditional manner as the Blessed Mother when she accepted God’s offer to be the mother of Jesus. Many Dominican women grow up with a personal relationship with the Blessed Mother, as countless girls are given the name Altagracia.
Belkys Ravelo-Paulino has called New York City home for almost 50 years, since leaving her beloved Dominican Republic. Despite coming to the United States as a teenager and living her adult life as a New Yorker, she says that she has never conceded her faith or traditions from her native land.
“This Mass is very special to me,” Mrs. Paulino, parishioner of Ascension in Manhattan, told CNY. “I come every year for as long as I can remember, even before I became a part of the Altagracia committee. I always take time to venerate and honor her, since an early age I have always put my prayers and faith in her hands.”
Francisco Romano, who was dressed in traditional folkloric garb, was one of the presenters of the offertory gifts. The Bronx resident and native of the capital city of Santo Domingo told CNY about his feelings for the Blessed Mother.
“Our Lady of Altagracia is the most precious thing in my life as a Dominican,” said Romano, a parishioner of Sacred Heart in the Highbridge section of the Bronx. “It’s a tradition of devotion that was taught to me as a young boy and I have tried to instill this in my own family and own children.”
The most recent census numbers indicate approximately 700,000 Dominicans live in New York City.
The feast of Our Lady of Altagracia is observed as a national holiday in the Dominican Republic. In the country of more than 10 million, 95 percent are Catholic.
Countless pilgrims annually journey to the Basilica of Our Lady of Altagracia in the city of Higuey in Altagracia.