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Feast of La Divina Pastora growing annually

By Keino Swamber South Bureau

EVERY year, hundreds of pilgrims journey from all over Trinidad, and in some instances Tobago, to worship at the feet of the statue of La Divina Pastora (The Divine Shepherdess) – the patron saint of Siparia.

The La Divina Pastora RC Church transforms into a beehive of activity from as early as 6 a.m. on Good Friday as Catholics and Hindus converge on the rural town on the most significant weekend of the Catholic calendar – Easter.

Some come bearing gifts for the saint, known to the Hindus as Soparee Mai (Mother of Siparia) while others come seeking alms.

Vendors also capitalise on the increased activity and offer a wide range of items for sale including food, plants, haberdashery, books, religious tokens and pottery.

The festivity is a preamble to the actual Feast of La Divina Pastora which will be celebrated on May 15, with a procession of the statue through the town's streets, during which the rosary is recited and Marian hymns sung.

An official at the Siparia Regional Corporation told Sunday Express the celebration continues to grow annually.

"Religious participation may be on the decline in the urban areas but not in Siparia," she said.

"Even the young people are actively involved in the worship. So it's not something that is going to stop anytime soon."

The Corporation recently placed advertisements in the newspapers inviting vendors to apply for the rental of spots along La Divina Pastora and St George Streets.

"People come into the Corporation and they pay a small fee," the official said.

"We provide electricity and water and would normally cater for around 175 vendors but we usually have more applicants than spaces available. We have, however, managed to contain it."

Also a significant part of the celebrations is the first haircut given to young baby boys by special barbers.

It is believed by Hindus that when the boys have their hair cut on Good Friday the will grow into strong, healthy men.

In the 19th century, a Spanish priest on his way from Venezuela to Trinidad, brought a statue of La Divina Pastora, patron saint of the Capuchin missions, and installed it in the Catholic Church. The priest claimed that the statue had saved his life.

Hindus began paying homage to the Saint following an incident in which one of the early settlers reported that he had seen a young girl wandering in the pasture on which the church was later built. The East Indian labourer told villagers that by night fall, the young girl had grown into an old woman.

The Hindus believed that she was the black Hindu deity Kali because of her short stature, long black hair and copper colour.

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