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San Lazaro's Church

Thousands of Catholic Cubans expressed their faith and devotion to St. Lazarus by making a pilgrimage to a sanctuary in El Rincon, located less than 20 miles west of Havana.

The devotion to St. Lazarus, known in Cuba as the miraculous saint and sometimes called "Old Lazarus," is one of the island's deepest.

The pilgrimage to the sanctuary, which was built in 1917, is comparable in grandeur to the Sept. 8 festivities of Our Lady of Charity of Cobre, Cuba's patroness.

The sanctuary pilgrims, many of them barefoot, arrived several days before the feast of St. Lazarus Dec. 17. They paid tribute to the saint by leaving offerings of flowers, candles, Havana cigars and cash.

Diverse in age and hometown, some pilgrims were in wheelchairs and some walking on foot. A number of pilgrims came with their families.

Many wore purple, a color associated with the saint who is usually depicted with wounds on his legs and accompanied by several dogs. Some wore clothing made of burlap, the rough fabric used to make sacks for gathering and storing agricultural products.

Amid the throng, those keeping promises to repay the saint for his intervention walked on their knees, crawled or dragged their bodies along the ground over long distances and arrived at the sanctuary exhausted and muddy.

Miguel Hernandez, 33, told Catholic News Service that for the past 17 years he has traveled from his home in the eastern province of Camaguey. He said St. Lazarus saved his leg when doctors wanted to amputate it after a traffic accident.

"I come every year because he (St. Lazarus) made me walk the way Jesus made him walk," Hernandez said.

Hernandez said his promise to St. Lazarus "is to wear sackcloth and walk here from the neighborhood of Santiago de las Vegas" on the southern outskirts of Havana.

"From midnight on, I dragged a 20-pound rock" and a piece of a railroad track, he said.

Mariela Diaz, who was slowly walking on her knees, visibly swollen from the effort, said she had suffered serious pain, and "the saint heard the prayers for my health."

The night before the feast day the pilgrimage to the sanctuary turned into a party with food, sweets and rum to celebrate.

Those who live in El Rincon set up altars in their living rooms, elaborately adorned with lights, flowers and plaster images of the saint prominently displayed so pilgrims could stop to pray before reaching the sanctuary.

The huge crowds that descended on El Rincon drew street vendors who set up stalls along the route and hawked images of St. Lazarus, items that could be offered to him, light food and drinks.

Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino of Havana said during a Mass marking the feast day the pilgrimage was "an act of faith."

He called for "peace in the family, in society, in our land."

"May nothing come to make our life difficult or harsh," he said.

Source: Catholic News Service

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