‘Our Lady of El Cisne’ Visits from Ecuador

  • In Corona, a procession was held to honor Virgen de El Cisne – Our Lady of The Swan, a three foot tall statue brought to the neighborhood from Ecuador. (Photos by Constanza Gallardo for Voices of NY)
Dancing to the rhythm of the band and dressed in pants made of sheepskin, a colorful poncho and a hand-pressed wool hat, Manuel Jara, 55, accompanied the Virgen de El Cisne – Our Lady of The Swan, whose cult originated in the El Cisne parish in Loja, Ecuador – during her first procession in Queens on Sunday.

Close to a thousand faithful walked six blocks alongside the statue of the Virgin, from the Mount Carmel chapel to the Church of St. Leo in Corona, an area where Ecuadoreans are the second largest immigrant group.

The image, known as “La Churona” for the curls or “churos” in her hair, was brought in from the city of Loja – 416 miles south of Quito – for a pilgrimage covering several communities in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.

“She came looking for her absent children,” said Jara, who left Ecuador 28 years ago. “Because many of us cannot return to our countries, she finds us and protects us.”

According to Rev. Damián Vargas, who flew in from Loja with the statue, Our Lady of El Cisne is as important to Ecuadoreans as the Virgin of Guadalupe is for Mexicans. For many of the 14,000 Ecuadorean immigrants living in Corona, the visit creates a spiritual connection with their country and the family they left behind, and the hope for a healthy future in the United States.

“That’s why we see many people shedding tears, and many of them are joyful tears,” said Rev. Gilbert Jiménez, who also traveled from Ecuador last week. “The people’s response really strikes you.”

The small statue – about 3 feet tall – is depicted carrying a baby, dressed in green and gold and wearing a straw hat, and was transported inside an air-conditioned box. The green dress was donated especially for the visit by the community in Corona.

The Church of the Assumption in Peekskill, Westchester County, organizes the processions alongside parishes such as the Church of the Annunciation in Manhattan and St. Margaret’s Church in New Jersey. However, the size of the Ecuadorean population in Corona led the organizers to invite the Church of St. Leo to participate for the first time in the nine years the Virgin has visited the United States.

Digna Ayol, 20, moved to Corona one year ago from the province of Chimborazo in Ecuador, where she left her mother and siblings. She says that the Virgin’s visit to her new neighborhood reminds her that she has a mother who finds her year after year regardless of where she is living.

Many people waited for hours to touch the statue’s dress, pray and make requests to the Virgin. Jara, who has not been able to go back to Ecuador, says that he asked for health, to continue sharing the traditions of his country in the United States.

“I come with the traditions of our ancestors,” said Jara. “We follow them so that we don’t forget their culture, because they left us on this earth to sow the seeds.”

The image of the Virgin is traveling every day to different parishes until Oct. 2, when it will attend the last ceremony, to be held at the Church of the Assumption in Peekskill.

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