People did not mind standing in line for more than three hours to reach the feet of the statue at the La Divina Pastora Church, Siparia, today.
Some of them, coming from as far away as Port of Spain, Arima and Sangre Grande, started pouring into the church from 6pm on Thursday. They came to offer flowers, olive oil and candles to the statue known as La Divina Pastora (Spanish for “Holy Shepherdess”) or Supari Mai, “Mother of Siparia” in Hindi.
This Good Friday tradition of honouring the dark-skinned statue is mainly observed by Christians and Hindus, although the First Peoples are said to offer her devotion too. Those of the Christian faith consider the statue as being of the Virgin Mary, while Hindus worship her as Supari Mai.
Kindergarten teacher Oma Siewdass from Princes Town came to Siparia at 3am yesterday to pray. “I have been making this trip for the past five years, and I believe praying and giving charity here at Supari Mai really yields results,” she said.
As a teacher she is faced with children who come from broken homes and has to play the role of mother and counsellor on many occasions.
“In my job I look at the faces of the innocent children and I wonder what the future holds for them,” she said.
Making the trip to Siparia brings her fulfilment and contentment from offering prayers to this goddess. Siewdass prayed for protection and success for herself, her parents and her siblings.
A man who knelt crying at the feet of the statue said a relative was murdered recently and he was praying to the goddess for justice. The man, who wished to remain anonymous, said there is no justice for innocent people in this country.
“I know the only way to deal with the cruelty that we face in this country is through worship and prayer,” he said.
Maiida Gaffoor of Chaguanas said she was a victim of crime and that was why she wanted to offer prayer and chose to take part in the Good Friday worship in Siparia.
“I am looking for answers in God. I come here with the hope of finding peace of mind,” Gaffoor explained.
Alana Matthews, 18, of Biche, did not want her picture taken, but said: “I made the trip to pray as I want to find a job.” Having left school with five CXC passes and two CAPE subjects, she wants to study further, but needs a job in order to do so.
This year there was an increase in street vending in Siparia for Good Friday. Many people were selling fruit and vegetables as well as plants, pots and pans, clothes, footwear and household items, so worshippers had to manoeuvre through the crowded area in front of the church as vendors called out their wares at the top of their lungs.
There were dozens of children in the churchyard awaiting their first haircuts, a Hindu rite called mundan samskaar.
At the church there is also an area where the poor wait for alms from those who come to make offerings. This year there was an increased number of people asking for money and food. Among them were scores of children, sitting in group awaiting handouts.
A Catholic mission was established in Siparia in the late 1750s, when Spanish Capuchin priests came to Trinidad through Venezuela; La Divina Pastora is the Capuchins’ patron. Siparia was made a Roman Catholic parish in 1906. It is believed people of Indian descent began making pilgrimages there long before, after the first indentured labourers arrived in 1845, and by the 1870s, the statue was attracting large numbers of Hindus. Her feast day is the third Sunday after Easter.