The miraculous statue of “Lady of Suyapa,” the most revered symbol of faith and “Patroness of Honduras,” is brought to the Island for the first time
Several hundred Roatan faithful accompanied the revered image from the airport tarmac, through the main street of the island, to Coxen Hole Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church. “The statue is here to promote our Catholic faith and to strengthen our own faith,” said Ana Svoboda, a Catholic community member and Fiscal of the Bay Islands parish council.
The XVII century cedar statue, just 6 centimeters tall, is the most revered religious artifact in Honduras. In February 1747 the statue was discovered by laborer Alejandro Colindres and an eight-year-old boy. The statue is affectionately called La Morenita (the Dear Dark One) and has been possibly carved as a devotional item by an unknown artist. The statue is covered by a dark cloak trimmed with golden stars.
By the year 1777 a chapel was constructed to house the statue and a first miracle attributed to the Suyapa occurred in 1796. In 1954, a large Basilica was built next to the chapel and now its permanent location is the Tegucigalpa’s basilica of Suyapa, a place of pilgrimage for tens of thousands of people from all across Central America.
Pope Pius XI, in 1925, declared the virgin Suyapa to be the Patroness of Honduras as “Our Lady of Suyapa,” and February 3 was chosen as her feast day. Each February the statue is taken to places across Honduras. This was the first time in history; the statue has visited Bay Islands and Roatan.
Outside the Church there is no salvation.
Bay Islands and Roatan are a parish that forms the part of the dioceses of La Ceiba, the newest of Honduras’ 10 dioceses. The idea for the Virgin Suyapa statue to visit the La Ceiba dioceses and Bay Islands came about a year ago during Honduran bishop’s conference in Tegucigalpa. In 2011, the tenth of Honduras Catholic Dioceses was created by Pope Benedict XVI and it’s estimated 400,000 Catholics are served by 20 priests.
At 7 pm a solemn Mass was celebrated by his Excellency bishop Michael Lenihan, the head the dioceses of La Ceiba, Roatan’s main Catholic church was filled with faithful. “I saw people crying when they saw it for the first time. Even I got a bit teary eyed,” said Ana Svoboda, a Catholic community member and Fiscal of the Bay Islands parish council.
“I think that Maria this night would like that churches with different beliefs would be able to live together in harmony and peace. That there would be peace between Christians, a profound respect for each other’s faith,” said in a sermon, by bishop Lenihan. None of Roatan’s protestant leaders took part in the celebrations.
Mary, Mother of Jesus is a Catholic and Orthodox Saint, and the doctrine of Intercession of the saints is held by the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches. While Anglicans defended the practice of praying to saints, and Lutheran approve honoring the saints, the attitude about the intercession of Christian saints, in the ever splintering 2,000 different protestant churches vary greatly.
The Catholic, as Eastern Orthodox Churches maintain, an III century dogma of Ecclesiamnullasalus or “outside the Church there is no salvation,” are seeking that the protestant churches would rejoin the Catholic Church.
After the mass, an all-night vigil took place at Roatan’s main Catholic Church. There were rosary prayers, and honorary guards of police and firefighters were changed every two hours. “I didn’t sleep too much,” said Svoboda.
After a 6am mass on January 8, a procession took the blessed statue back to the Roatan airport from where the statue was flown to Tela. From there the statue was taken to every parish in the La Ceiba dioceses: San Juan Pueblo, La Masica, Pino and finally in La Ceiba.