La Divina Pastora celebrations return on smaller scale

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Devotees pay homage to the La Divina Pastora / Siparee Mai statue at the La Divina Pastora RC Church in Siparia on Thursday. – Photo by Lincoln Holder

After a two-year hiatus owing to the covid19 pandemic, the popular inter-religious celebration of La Divina Pastora (the Devine Shepherdess), also called Siparee Mai, returned to Siparia on Holy Thursday.

Although the event was not as big as it usually was before the pandemic, people flocked to the La Divina Pastora RC Church compound to pray and make offerings to the patron saint of Siparia, hoping for favours and miracles.

For Catholics, the statue is a manifestation of the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. Hindus, on the other hand, link the statue with a murti of Mother Kali, the Hindu goddess.

Vendors under tents also lined the streets near the church and police blocked off several streets to vehicular traffic. Needy people also gathered on the roadside.

Parish priest Fr Alan Hall told Newsday worshippers were trickling in and “coming through gently” to pay homage to La Divina Pastora.

Because of the pandemic, viewing and praying to the statue has been reduced from 24 hours to the hours of 8 am – 10 pm on Thursday and half day on Good Friday.

“We still allow the opportunity for pilgrims to come through because they come with their intersessions and intentions to pray in front of the saint. This (event) has a significant meaning not just for Catholics, but for many different faiths,” Hall said.

“We (church) allow it because it has become a tradition, especially within this time which we consider the most holiest week of the entire year.”

The priest said all covid19 protocols are being observed on the compound, and people must be mindful of the virus considering the country has seen a slight rise in cases lately.

“There are not as many tents as in past years. We welcome all they come to give their offerings and prayers, and we hope our blessed Virgin Mary intercedes on their behalf.”

Because of the safety measures, the compound of La Divina Pastora Siparia Boys’ RC School next to the church was not opened to needy people. Traditionally, needy people camped there for a few nights.

Hall said the church still accommodated them by giving out hampers, meals, and other items.

Chameli Baboolal and other Hindu family members from Siparia said several generations have been paying homage to the statue. They said a relative, who turns eight in July, has been visiting the statue since she was a baby.

They prayed for health, strength, and protection. They brought sweet oil, rice, and flowers.

“We call her Mother Siparee Mai. Normally, there are long lines, but it was easy getting to see her this year. Sometimes, we had to wait for hours in line to see her,” a male relative said.

Hindu devotee Samdaye Balliram of Penal Rock Road in Penal said she always attends the event. She said she prayed for health and strength.

“I know she would bless me. My (adult) children Niesha and Shurland sent jewels, and I also brought gifts for her. My husband Suruj went to work but sent money for her,” Balliram said.

Her son Prakesh Balliram also made offerings.

“In 2012, I did not visit her because I was avoiding the large crowd. I later saw her image in a dream. She did not talk, but I know she was showing herself for me to come to look for her. I went to the church and prayed in December that year,” Prakesh said.

“This year, I came to give thanks. I came to give back for all her blessings. She represents Durga Kali Mai. She is a blessing. We bought groceries for the church to distribute to the poor and needy.”

The street leading to the La Divina Pastora RC Church is usually filled with people for the celebrations. – Photo by Lincoln Holder

Siparia East/San Francique South councillor Ramona Victor told Newsday the Siparia regional corporation usually receives funds from the central government for the event. But this year there was none.

Victor said the corporation had to cut other budgets to host the festivities.

“We borrowed money from other areas to make it happen this year because this is a staple in some people’s calendars where they can earn extra income.

“We had to scrape money from other areas to make booths for the vendors.”

The corporation gave vendors a space, including a tent, table, chairs, and lighting at $300 to sell their products.

Victor said to set up a booth costs about $700 and the corporation subsidises $400.

Owing to the lack of funding, the corporation could not set up the 200-plus booths as in previous years.

“We catered for 150 booths and were only able to get 90 occupied this year.”