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Honduras, Suyapa:

The Dear Dark One (La Morenita)
The Virgin of Suyapa
Saint Mary of the Conception
Patroness of Honduras and all of Central America
Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces

In the village Suyapa, 7 km SE of the capital Tegucigalpa, in the old little church behind the new basilica and on special occasions inside the basilica, 6.5 cm, painted cedar wood.

On February 3, 1747 the young peasant Alejandro Colindres and his eight year old nephew Lorenzo Martinez went to farm at some distance from their house. After a long day's work they started walking home, but overcome by tiredness and nightfall, they decided to sleep by the side of the road. They were on Mount Piligüín. Alejandro rolled up his shawl as a pillow, but he had a hard time sleeping, because some hard object kept slipping under his head and making him uncomfortable. Every time he moved it out of the way, it seemed to come back. Finally, in the darkness of night he threw the thing down the ravine next to him, but soon it was back to disturb him again. At that he stuffed it into his bag. It wasn't until morning that he realized what had kept him awake during the night: a tiny figure of the Virgin with native American features, her hands folded in prayer. Once back home he handed her over to his mother Ana Caraballo and his sister Isabel Colindres. The women installed her on an altar in their house and there she was worshipped in the indigenous style for more than 30 years with daily offerings of flowers and candles.

La Morenita's fame and reputation as a miracle worker spread quickly among the poor native population to whom her appearance was as important as the apparitions of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico City. She was considered God's special blessing upon the indigenous peasants and laborers of the area. Whenever somebody was in dire need the Colindres family would arrive with the little statue, so that the Queen of Heaven might visit the poor soul.

Our Lady was considered a purely native affair until one day an aristocratic military officer of Spanish decent, Captain Joseph de Celaya, asked the Virgin of Suyapa to cure his painful disease. He promised to build her a church and have masses held in her honor throughout the year if only she answered his prayer. When she did, the whole story of La Morenita's appearance and activity among the poor was brought to the attention of the Church hierarchy. By 1780 a chapel was consecrated and now Hondurans of all walks of life started arriving in Suyapa and receiving her blessings. In 1925 Saint Mary of the Conception was declared patroness of Honduras by Pope Pius XI.

In 1969 she received the title Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. This was because that year El Salvador briefly invaded Honduras. Since the enemy troops were better armed and trained, the Honduran boys were terrified. But suddenly they saw an apparition of their Dark Mother walking beside them, giving them water, and saying: "Onward, for we are going to win!" With that they beat the El Salvadorans back. After continuing miracles, visions, and apparitions she was declared Patroness of Central America in 1982.

The feast of this manifestation of the Heavenly Mother is celebrated every February 3rd with a week long festival attended by immense crowds of mostly poor people from as far away as Guatemala.(*1)

*1: Billy Weiss, La Virgen of Suyapa - exploring a modern Honduran myth, in: Honduras this Week, Monday, November 27, 2000, online edition 48