By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published November 27, 2014
SANDY SPRINGS—From generation to generation, devotion to the Blessed Mother has been part of daily life on the island of Puerto Rico.
The Puerto Rican community of Atlanta celebrated Mass honoring Our Lady of Divine Providence—Nuestra Señora de la Divina Providencia—on Nov. 16 at St. Jude the Apostle Church in Sandy Springs.
It was one of several Masses held locally this month prior to the Nov. 19 feast day of the patroness of the Caribbean island.
Johnny and Hilda Ortiz, parishioners of St. Philip Benizi Church in Jonesboro, initiated the first Mass 25 years ago at their home parish.
“That’s where the feast was born,” said Johnny Ortiz about the Atlanta celebration.
In 1989, Archbishop Eugene Marino, SSJ, celebrated the first Mass honoring Our Lady of Divine Providence at St. Philip Benizi. Father Eduardo Salazar and the pastor at the time, Father Frank Giusta, assisted in launching the inaugural Mass.
This year, “sister” celebrations were also held at the Cathedral of Christ the King and Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, both in Atlanta, as well as at St. Philip Benizi.
Ortiz said the community is grateful for the history of this Marian devotion and for Mary’s intercession.
“Our grandparents are the ones that passed this to us,” he said of the cultural and religious tradition. “We’re passing it on to our children.”
Ortiz added that the objectives were to promote the Catholic faith, including obedience to the Holy See.
“The idea is to serve as best we can the Hispanic community in the Archdiocese of Atlanta,” said Ortiz.
A resident of Georgia since 1984, Ortiz said it’s important for those on the island to know that their brothers and sisters living elsewhere are united with them in prayer.
“We’re praying for them here,” he said.
Ortiz also emphasized that Mary can unite us all “in the divine heart of her Son.”
A statue of Our Lady of Divine Providence, displayed near the altar, was adorned at its base with blue tulle and arrangements of red and white flowers.
Our Lady of Divine Providence is traditionally depicted in artwork gazing upon and cradling the sleeping, infant Jesus.
Students from the Son Boriqua dance school, 2 to 10 years old, donned straw hats and Puerto Rican costumes to process into the sanctuary. The young people, mostly parishioners of St. Patrick Church in Norcross, carried a banner with the image of Mary.
Father Luis Maria Colon, vicar general of the Diocese of Arecibo in Puerto Rico, celebrated the Mass at St. Jude. Father Jaime Rivera of St. Jude, a native of Puerto Rico, concelebrated.
Father Colon’s brother, Johnny, lives in Atlanta, and it was the vicar general’s third time joining the community for the feast day.
Father Colon spoke in Spanish following Mass as Ortiz translated his comments.
He hoped the Mass would help all to “maintain their faith and their love for the Blessed Mother.”
In his homily, Father Colon encouraged those listening to work for the church.
“The gift of the Blessed Mother is Jesus. Like her, we are called to share this gift of love,” he said.
This “great gift,” said the vicar general, is a reminder that “we are not orphans.”
During the Mass, Father Colon also blessed El Salvador natives Ana and Carlos Marroquin upon their 41st wedding anniversary. The Marroquins are parishioners of St. Jude.
Devotion to Our Lady of Divine Providence originated in Italy in the 13th century. This was a popular devotion that eventually spread to Spain, where a shrine was erected. In 1888, Pope Leo XIII approved the official solemnity of the feast.
When the Catalan prelate Bishop Gil Esteve y Tomás was named bishop of Puerto Rico, he brought with him this devotion learned during his seminarian years in Spain.
The particular title of “Divine Providence” is attributed to San Felipe Benicio, fifth superior of the Italian religious order, Servants of Mary. He invoked the protection of the Virgin one day when his friars had nothing to eat. Following the prayer, they found two basketsful of food at the door of the convent without knowing the source.
Pope Paul VI declared Our Lady, Mother of Divine Providence, as the main patroness of Puerto Rico in 1969. That decree also moved the solemnity from Jan. 2 to Nov. 19, the day when the island was first discovered.
Lively traditional music was an important part of the Mass at St. Jude. Musicians from several parishes, under the leadership of Ophie Rivera, provided the music, including the hymn of “Our Lady of Divine Providence.”
Ortiz presented a plaque of gratitude to Rivera and the musicians following Mass.
“They have been with us from the beginning,” he said.
Rivera and her husband, Carlos, lead the music at the Spanish Mass at St. Philip, and Israel Peralta does the same at Immaculate Heart of Mary. Joining them were musicians from St. Benedict Church in Duluth as well as the Cathedral.
“The music just seals the deal for us,” said Peralta about celebrating the devotion.
Like Ortiz, they all learned about the example of Mary from their parents and grandparents.
“In the evenings we would pray the rosary,” said Rivera. “We try to keep our roots.”
Carlos Rivera shared that prayer is learned from both parents—with fathers teaching prayer with their hands and mothers with their hearts.
Both families include their children in preparations for the annual Mass. Their sons and daughters also participate by singing and playing instruments. “They know its Providencia time,” said Peralta.
Rivera said her sisters from Florida come for the Mass and hope to promote a more widespread celebration of the feast day in their diocese.
Although Rivera and her husband were from the same area of Puerto Rico, they really came to know one another through this Marian devotion. Many of their friendships were formed by involvement in this Puerto Rican tradition on the mainland.
“We all met through Providencia,” said Rivera as she looked around the sanctuary.