In one of my classes this fall, we've been reading Thomas Tweed's book Our Lady Of The Exile, a study of the shrine to the Virgin in Miami, Florida, that has been venerated by the Cuban exile community there for decades. Tweed's book is a modern classic of the anthropological side of Religious Studies, a synthesis of interviews with clergy and visitors to the shrine conducted over several years and situated in a a detailed study of how this place of workshop fits into orthodox and syncretistic faith practices of the Cuban-American community. Like many of the readings we've done in this class, it has served as a case study of how religion has a seemingly infinite ability to work at and reinvent itself at the local level.
Today on NPR I heard a story about another shrine, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, set up in 2010 in honour of St. Toribio, who is considered to be the patron saint of immigrants. You can hear the 10 minute segment at the first part of segment C at this page. Father Toribio Romo Gonsalez was a Mexican Roman Catholic priest who was murdered in 1928 and has since been venerated by Mexican immigrants to the United States who credit him with miraculous appearances to those crossing the desert. In 2007 the Oklahoma State Legislature passed Bill 1804, which made it a crime to hire, give rides to, or even shelter illegal immigrants. The shrine was created by parishioners at St. Peter and St. Paul parish in Tulsa as a response to this law. A statue of Fr. Toribio was brought from Guadalupe, Mexico, in a manner very similar to how Tweed describes the transport of the image of Our Lady from Cuba to Miami. Drug smugglers have been known to hide narcotics in statues to bring them across the border, but Santo Toribio made it across the border without any problems.
Many people now come to the shrine to pray and talk to Santo Toribio, pray for help with family members seeking their papers or hoping to avoid deportation, and in 2010, two years after the shrine came to Tulsa, two provisions in Bill 1804 were struck down by a court of appeal.
Whether you interested in how religion works and adapts to local conditions and needs, or are a person of faith, it's a lovely example of how faith and hope can gently work against the grain of a harsh legal and political culture.