Puerto Rican Christmas season begins with Mass in Meriden

MERIDEN — In Puerto Rico and beyond, Nov. 18 marked the feast day of Nuestra Señora de la Divina Providencia or Our Lady of Divine Providence, the patroness of Puerto Rico.

To celebrate, parishioners of Saint Rose of Lima Church at 35 Center St. observed novenas throughout the week and held a mass in her honor last Friday. After the mass, parishioners gathered in the community hall to celebrate with traditional Puerto Rican music, dance and food. 

“This is to have a good time; we’ve spent years without partying,” said parishioner Amparo Villanova in her native Spanish. Like many in the Puerto Rican community that began arriving in Meriden 50 years ago, Villanova is from Aguada and has been at the church since 1985.

Longtime event coordinator Julie Avilés explained it was the first time food and drink were part of the celebration since the COVID-19 pandemic. She added it was also the first time that the mass was held on a weekday, as the celebration has been a part of the Sunday Mass in previous years.

The Mass

Parishioner Zenaida Vásquez opened the Spanish-language Mass on Friday by reading a history of Our Lady of Divine Providence from the pulpit. According to the history in the Catholic tradition, Our Lady of Divine Providence helped Monsignor Gil Esteve Tomás rebuild the Puerto Rican church when he was appointed bishop in 1848.

In a decree signed on Nov. 19, 1969, Pope Paul VI declared Our Lady of Divine Providence the patroness of Puerto Rico, Vásquez read. This document also showed that her feast day was to be transferred to Nov. 19, the same day that controversial Italian explorer Christopher Columbus first arrived on the island of Boriquen in 1493, she said.

“The intention is to bring together the two great loves of Puerto Ricans: love for their beautiful island and love for the Mother of God,” Vásquez read.

After the initial procession with the portrait of Our Lady of the Divine Providence and a reading of the scriptures, the Rev. Jim Manship opened the homily by inviting the faithful to reflect on the indigenous people of the island and the ongoing struggle of Puerto Ricans, especially of women and members of the LGBTQ+ community. 

“God has always provided,” he said in Spanish. “We are the church. God has brought us into the world to care for those who feel alone.”

After the homily, ushers dressed in pavas, or traditional Puerto Rican straw hats, collected the offering. Manship explained the offering was to be donated to Chrysalis Center, a Hartford-based nonprofit that provides housing, and can help clients through the process of getting job training and health care services by providing links to community supports and resources.  

Toward the end of the mass, pairs of parishioners dressed in traditional Puerto Rican clothes approached a flowered offering on the altar steps with symbols of Puerto Rican heritage like the Rosary, the Bible, the güiro, the cuatro, a wood machete, yautía, yucca and plantains. 

After communion, a procession of parishioners proceeded to the community hall across the street.

The start of Christmas

Event coordinator Elena Medina of San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico, has been part of the Saint Rose community for the past 54 years. She explained that the celebration of the Mass on the 19th is the opening of the Puerto Rican Christmas season. 

Medina also explained that parishioners ate traditional Puerto Rican dishes and desserts donated by volunteers and a large cake decorated with the Puerto Rican flag and a picture of Our Lady of Divine Providence.

“Rice and beans and pernil are traditional parts of Puerto Rican Christmas,” she said.

The Cardona family also played live villancicos, or traditional Christmas music as parishioners danced and clapped along. The mass for Our Lady of Divine Providence starts the Puerto Rican Christmas season, while as Medina explained the Mexican community celebrates the novenas of the Virgin of Guadalupe, starting on Dec. 3.

lguzman@record-journal.com Twitter: @lguzm_n 

Latino Communities Reporter Lau Guzmán is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. Support RFA reporters at the Record-Journal through a donation at https://bit.ly/3Pdb0re, To learn more about RFA, visit www.reportforamerica.org.


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