Catholic Free Press

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  • Aug
  • 29

Uruguayan patroness, Virgin of the 33, honored

Posted By August 29, 2013 | 12:51 pm | Lead Story #3

By Patricia O’Connell
CFP Correspondent

FITCHBURG – The Republic of Uruguay declared independence from Spain 188 years ago, on August 25.
The Uruguayan community of St. Francis of Assisi Parish marked this milestone Sunday, the same date, with a celebration dedicated to the Virgen de los Treinta y Tres, or Virgin of the 33, patroness of their homeland.
Thousands of Uruguayans are said to live in Fitchburg and Leominster. Many of them worship at St. Francis, according to Anibal Muniz, who helped organize last weekend’s event.
He, as well as many of the other Uruguayan immigrants, dressed in light blue, or light blue and white, the same colors as the country’s flag.
The church hall was also decked out in the same colors, as was a large sheet cake, with an image of the Virgin, which was served after Mass.
Veronica Olivera also helped with the planning. She said this devotion to Our Lady is very much tied in with the history of her native country.
The Virgin of the 33 originated with a wood carving of Our Blessed Mother, mostly likely created by a Guarani native at one of the Jesuit-run workshops attached to a mission. By the late 1700s, this statue was then placed in a chapel in a village called El Pintado. However, when residents moved to another location called Florida, they brought this statue with them.
The image played a role in the country’s battle for independence from Spain. A few months before independence was declared, 33 Uruguayan loyalists began to fight for independence. But not before praying before this small wooden statue, and asking Our Lady’s help in this struggle.
Ever since, the statue has been referred to the Virgin of the 33.
Ms. Olivera said this was the first time the local Uruguayan community has held a public celebration at St. Francis to honor Our Lady.
“We are so excited,” she said. “Everybody is so excited.”
A replica of the original statue was brought from Uruguay by Nestor and Gabriela Molinari, who recently traveled to their native country.
Last Sunday the statue was carried into a side parking lot for an outdoor procession, which wound through the front of the church and to the altar. The statue was on display during Mass. In the pews. many people were dressed in the colors of Uruguay.
Father Emerito Ortiz said the image was originally made in honor of the Immaculate Conception, and it was only 14-inches high. He noted that God wants to reach people of every nation, so they can hear the good news of salvation.
“It is a matter of following the teaching of the Lord Jesus,” he added. “Meanwhile, we’re going to suffer with the hope that we’ll all be together in the Kingdom of God.”
He said he appreciated what his Uruguayan parishioners have done to honor Our Lady.
“I am very proud of them because they are Catholic people bringing in spirit to Saint Francis and to the whole United States,” he said. “Every Catholic brings the faith more alive so we can understand what the Church is about.”
In 1962, Pope John XXIII declared the Virgin of the 33 Patroness of the Oriental Republic of Uruguay.

– Michael O’Connell contributed to this report.