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La Divina Pastora breaking down racial, religious and traditional barriers
“The role of La Divina Pastora, the Good Shepherdess, carried out so gently and quietly in the land of the Trinity, is now openly breaking down racial, religious and traditional barriers. As mother, she is a help and witness to peace, unity and love to all peoples.”
—Taken from an article entitled The Feast of La Divina Pastora, Holy Shepherdess—Its Origin, Historical Development and Future Perspectives, written by Father John Thomas Harricharan.
The journey to Siparia is one that thousands of followers of La Divina Pastora, Holy Shepherdess, take every Good Friday. Their sole purpose being to ask the mother of the Good Shepherd for their wishes to be granted and giving thanks and offerings for those already granted.
This reporter’s journey to the La Divina Pastora Roman Catholic Church, in search of the story behind the saint, unearthed in a host of stories regarding her appearance. The saint, traditionally honoured by Catholics and Hindus, is now being honoured by those of many other faiths. I was told: “La Divina Pastora represents the blessed Virgin Mary who is the mother of Jesus. Catholic Christians hold her in high esteem.”
According to Father John Thomas Harricharan’s article, “Surgeon-Major DWD Comins, in his 1895 report on Indian Emigration to Trinidad, reported hearing that the statue was brought to the island around the year 1730 by Spanish Capuchin monks fleeing persecution by the warlike Amerindians on the adjacent mainland.”
Still, there are many stories surrounding the appearance of the Holy Shepherdess. According to evidence, the belief by Hindus in Soparee K Mai (as Hindus refer to La Divina Pastora) started in the 1870’s. A Hindu woman told T&T Guardian that her parents informed her, “people saw a girl walking in the pasture (where the La Divina Pastora RC Church was later constructed) and by the night she became an old woman.”
Another Hindu elder found with an orhani covering her head as she prayed in the church told us that her pundit informed her that some believe Soparee K Mai (which literally means Mother of Siparia) represents the goddesses Durga and Kali. Goddess Durga represents the power of the Supreme Being that preserves moral order and righteousness in the creation and Kali is a manifestation of the Divine Mother, which represents the female principle.
The devotee added that she heard that when the statue was found, it was surrounded by banana trees and tulsi plants. The banana plant is used on a bedi (a sort of altar) when doing puja (Hindu prayer ceremony) and the tulsi, which has many medicinal purposes, is worshipped in Hinduism and is used in almost every Hindu ceremony. The tulsi is also believed to bring wealth, blessings and positivity to any home in which it is found. For this reason, the devotee related, she firmly believes it is Durga and Kali she is praying to.
So what exactly do people ask the saint for and are their wishes really granted? A Catholic lay minister disclosed that “people from as far as America, Venezuela and England will tell you that they have come to pray to La Divina Pastora and had their wishes granted. People come here for many reasons. One woman came to pray because she wanted her Visa so badly and she was turned down quite a number of times. She asked La Divina Pastora to grant her the Visa and so she received it. In addition, her name was pulled in a lottery at the US Embassy and succeeded in obtaining permanent residence.”
The statue of La Divina Pastora is moved from the church (where she usually stands) on the morning of Holy Thursday (today) and is placed in a room close to the school. There, the public will be able to visit her until the end of Good Friday. Therefore, the crowds begin arriving as early as Holy Thursday.
Hundreds of less fortunate people stay overnight to receive alms from pilgrims. La Divina Pastora Roman Catholic Church, which can now be considered a National Shrine, has a soup kitchen for the less fortunate on the night of Holy Thursday and breakfast is provided on Good Friday.
During this time it is evident that the saint brings together two major religions. It is said that the town of Siparia is evenly distributed. The Catholic community is basically of African and Spanish descent but once you have the Hindus visiting it ultimately means that people of Indian descent are there. The festival has therefore led to racial cooperation and there are not many places in the world where you will find two important Christian holidays being observed by two groups—Christians and Hindus.
The saint is respected worldwide and many say that she has performed miracles.
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