Archbishop Angelo Becciu, the apostolic nuncio to Cuba, recently stressed that the Catholic Church “plays a very important role” in the country.

Archbishop Becciu underscored the commitment of the bishops and priests to help Cubans amid the difficulties they face. His comments came in an interview published Jan. 29 by the Cuban bishops’ conference.

He also referred to the pilgrimage site, the statue of Our Lady of Charity. “Mary can help Cubans feel that they are one family,” he said, adding that after many years in which pilgrimages were prohibited, it is “amazing to see such a huge response from the people.”

“This has been a unique experience for me,” he said.

In the 1960s the Cuban government began outlawing processions and other religious acts outside of churches. Such prohibitions began to be rolled back after Pope John Paul II visited Cuba in 1998 and the government reinstated Christmas as a holiday.

The devotion to Our Lady of Charity in Cuba dates back to 1612, when three young men found the statue in Nipe Bay. The statue bore the inscription, “I am the Virgin of Charity.”

Devotion to Our Lady of Charity quickly spread throughout the country, and years later the statue was taken to an area called Cobre, where there were numerous copper mines. 

John Paul II crowned the statue as Queen and Patroness of Cuba on Jan. 24, 1998, during a Mass in Santiago.