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La Divina Pastora

By RICHARDSON DHALAI Monday, March 19 2007

click on pic to zoom in
The statue of La Divina Pastora....
The statue of La Divina Pastora....

SHROUDED in mystery, the La Divina Pastora statue of Siparia has not only had a significant impact on rural South Trinidad, but also on wider society where her impact can be measured through contributions in the areas of history, theology and anthropology.

Veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary, under the title of La Divina Pastora, or the Divine Shepherdess, was brought to Siparia by a group of Catholic Capuchin missionaries who chose the area because it was a traditional meeting place of the Orinoco Indians.

But the origin of the La Divina Pastora statue, which is bronze coloured, standing 100 cm in height, is carefully dressed and decorated with gold and silver jewellery, flowers and rosaries, is shrouded in mystery, with many myths surrounding how it came to be placed in Siparia.

However, according to local historian, Theresa Noel, the impact of the La Divina Pastora on local society cannot be understated since the statue is venerated by not only Catholics during the feast days, but by Hindus who also perform pilgrimages to the Church on Holy Thursday and Good Friday.

Noel presented her findings during a panel discussion titled, “La Divina Pastora, Mother of all Peoples” at the La Divina Pastora RC Church, Siparia, last Thursday.

Other presenters included theologian Fr John Theodore and anthropolgist, Alison McLetchie.

Noel, whose paper was titled “A history of devotions of La Divina Pastora,” traced the church’s intercession to the Virgin Mary to Seville, Spain, in 1703.

She said Capuchin monks took the tradition to Venezuela in 1715 and later to Trinidad with the establishment of a mission in Siparia. The Feast of La Divina Pastora took the form of a Mass, a procession through the streets of Siparia, benediction, followed by “merry-making”.

She said with the arrival of East Indian indentured labourers, another distinct celebration was started with hundreds of Hindus making a pilgrimage to the parish hall to the statue which they called “Soparee Mai” or the Mother of Siparia during the Holy Week where Hindus offer prayers, infant boys are given their first haircut and the hair, in addition to money, rice and flowers, are offered to Soparee Mai. Their celebrations became known as “Soparee Mai Ke Mela.”

Noel said Chinese immigrants also developed a devotion to La Divina Pastora in the 1850s, and actively participated during the fete days by playing San Chee and Mah Jong.

Fr Theodore, who spoke on the inter-religious dimension of the La Divina Pastora, said the church had undergone an evolution in their views of non-Christian celebrations using Christian saints and places of worship.

He said while the Church had previously viewed non-Christian traditions with condemnation, the church had now adopted a more open attitude to the non-Christian religions. He said the Catholic Church now saw non-Christian religions as another means of gaining the right position with God.

Meanwhile, McLethie, who holds a Masters degree in anthropology from Georgia University in the US, spoke on the social, historical and cultural perspective of the celebrations.

She said pilgrims to the La Divina Pastora shrine viewed themselves not as Hindu or Catholic, East Indian or African, but as Trinidadians and who believed the La Divina Pastora was for everyone.

Touching on the political divide within society, she said devotees also recognised the divisions between the political parties and “the corruption within them,” but were also fully cognizant of who their neighbours were and who they were able to depend on in times of trouble.

The La Divina Pastora procession and Mass will take place on April 29, from 10am.

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