Aside from the beauty and history of the sites themselves, one of the most remarkable things I learned while on my Marian pilgrimage across America for my book My Queen, My Mother: A Living Novena was that so many people know little about how the Catholic faith impacted their cultural heritage. That includes myself, because for as much as I knew before starting, I discovered much, much more.

As I dug into our nation's history and Catholic heritage, I've discovered that my devotion to Christ and his Mother was changing. It became deeper and broader because I was seeing their roles in my life from a completely different perspective.

So, when Maria Morera Johnson's book, Our Lady of Charity: How A Cuban Devotion to Mary Helped Me Grow in Faith and Love, came across my desk, I was thrilled. I had found a kindred spirit!

In the book, Cuban-born Johnson contemplates and explores the impact devotion to Our Lady of Charity, patroness of Cuba, has had on the Cuban people and herself. She does a great job of telling both the story of the devotion and her own story. In 1965, she immigrated with her family from Cuba to Florida expecting never to return. But in 2015 she returned for the apostolic visit of Pope Francis when she accompanied her mother there at her sister’s request. She writes in the Introduction:

I left Cuba in 1965, and I never came back. I have family in Cuba. I had, for decades, a deep yearning to someday return to the land where I was born and to see with my own eyes the sites my parents had described with loving detail. It was one of those dreams we have and then safely store away. I placed my dream of returning to Cuba on a shelf, stacked neatly next to other dreams such as writing a book or retiring to a waterfront home. One day, when we finished raising the children. When we have the money. When we retire. I think the Blessed Mother had her own ideas about the timing.

During the trip, she was able to visit the Basilica Shrine of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre moments after Pope Francis celebrated Mass there. She reconnected with family, her roots, and visited places from her childhood all the while being acutely aware of Our Lady of Charity’s presence. With each step of her journey, the devotion that had been instilled in her since her childhood grew.

Johnson’s experiences in Cuba convinced her that she needed to tell the story of Our Lady of Charity in book form so that other Cuban-Americans like herself would get to know Our Lady of Charity as well as with her children, nieces and nephews. She’s done this in an enchanting, conversational style that draws the reader in and brings this ages-old devotion to life. The book is a short, easy read of just 106 pages and six chapters:

1. Mary Rescues Us from the Storm: The Story of the Virgin of Charity

2. Mary Embraces the Dignity of Her Children: The Colonial Period

3. Patroness of Cuba: The Virgen Mambisa

4. Love Unites Us: Celebrating Our Lady of Charity

5. Ermita de la Caridad: Miami’s Shrine for the World

6. How Devotion to Mary Led Me to Her Son, Jesus

Throughout chapters, Johnson weaves her personal heritage with the heritage of Cuba and Our Lady of Charity which makes it a great book for anyone because both histories are fascinating.

For example:

It’s true that Cuban-Americans feel the sting of exile, passed on to us by our parents, but at the same time we recognize this as part of the human condition. As Cuban Americans we probably don’t know Cuban history as well as American history. But what we do know is that Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, our heavenly mother, has always been with us and always will be. Our parents and grandparents left everything behind in Cuba, but they didn’t leave behind the Blessed Mother.

We may know our personal family histories, some of us may have been drilled on the history of Cuba, but our relationship with Our Lady of Charity has been such a part of our cultural landscape that sometimes we forget who she is.

We would do well to see her in her heavenly glory, the Mother of God. The spouse of the Holy Spirit. The Mother of Mercy. The Cause of Our Joy. Co-Redemptorist. Mary has many titles. Relating her story as Our Lady of Charity naturally follows my desire to know about my family and my birthplace.

Like Johnson, most of us will discover that Mary has been an integral part of our heritage. And, like Johnson, once we dig into our heritage, will find ourselves growing in faith and devotion to our Blessed Mother and her Son, Jesus Christ. Johnson’s book is motivation to get us started.