Thousands find “La Cuevita”
Devotees honor St. Jude Thaddeus in his “Little Cave”
By Brenda Nettles Riojas
Courtesy of The Valley Catholic
PHARR — Inside a small cave in Pharr, candles flicker night and day before a statue of St. Jude Thaddeus, the patron saint for hopeless cases.
Each day people come. They come all day said Sister Estela Cantu, a secular sister of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri, and pastoral administrator of St. Jude Thaddeus Church in Pharr.
They come to pray before the saint and ask for his intercession. They come to give him thanks.
Ignacio and Alejandra Hernandez of Edinburg, originally from Mexico City, come every eight days, “To thank him for all his favors, and for all the ways he helps us,” said Alejandra Hernandez, adding “porque es muy milagroso.”
Ignacio Hernandez wears a green and white habit and holds his miracle, his three-year-old son, in his arm and he walks on his knees approaching the shrine dedicated to St. Jude. “The doctors said I could not have another child,” his wife shares as she holds her baby daughter in her arms. The Hernandez have three children now. They named their second child, the three-year-old, Tadeo after the saint. Their oldest son is now 13.
Sister Cantu said, “It’s beautiful to see the way people come in. …He just has so many followers who are very grateful for what he has done for them. St. Jude intercedes for them. They keep coming back to thank him every time with flowers, with candles,” she added.
She noted that even though the parish does not publicize “la cuevita” as it has been called over the years, people find it. “He has a lot of followers. We’re here in a little corner, but people find us.”
Buses filled with pilgrims come on the weekend as well; some arrive from Houston and San Antonio after their visit to the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle-National Shrine in San Juan.
While the shrine is popular year round, the saints feast day on Oct.28 draws even larger numbers of faithful who want to honor the saint. Sister Cantu said people come all day and bring mariachis and matachines, and many come dressed as St. Jude.
Also, leading up to the feast day, the parish promotes a solemn novena. This year the novena begins Oct.20 and every intention and petition received will be placed under the altar during the Masses on Oct. 28.
A pathway from the parish church leads to the “Cuevita de San Judas Tadeo,” a man-made cave constructed around 1952 to house a statue of St. Jude Thaddeus, one of the twelve apostles.
The small concrete shrine, which measures 33 feet by 25 feet, was built to accommodate the high volume of faithful and the candles they left before the statue inside the church. The parish community at the time was afraid the church might catch fire because of all the candles.
Oratorian Father Leo Francis Daniel said a chapel with a cross was built adjacent to “la cuevita” to remind people that Christ comes first and that St. Jude is an intercessor.
Who knows how many people have come and have kneeled at the entrance of the cave praying before the saint who gives them hope? Some clues as to the requests and petitions are left behind on two side bulletin boards and wire grids where the faithful pin milagro charms and notes, thank yous and supplications – their hopes and needs left before the saint. They leave photos of sonograms, newborns, soldiers, quinceañeras, homes, and wrecked cars.
One woman left a note asking for prayers for her surgery scheduled this past July. Another left a photo of her home asking St. Jude for his help. “No quiero perder mi casa,” (“I don’t want to lose my home”) it reads.
Norma Ramos of Harlingen visited on a Saturday afternoon at the sun’s peak hour. She has been visiting the “cuevita” for 20 years. She came with her daughter and grandchildren. Her daughter, Gloria, credits her mother for passing on the devotion to St. Jude.
“You pray and your prayers get answered,” Gloria Ramos said.
St. Jude Thaddeus Church, which is under the care of the Oratorian priests, was established in 1950. Each Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. they display a relic of St. Jude and celebrate a Novena Mass and Benediction. The Sunday Mass schedule includes a traditional Latin Mass at 8 a.m.
How to get there
Address: 505 S. Ironwood, Pharr
Directions: From Expressway 83 take I Road Exit and head south past Business 83 (I Road becomes S. Veterans Blvd.) Turn right on E. Kelly Ave and left on S. Ironwood St.
(Originally published in the October 2012 issue of The Valley Catholic newspaper.)