Multiple generations share rosary tradition

ROCHESTER — For decades, three generations of two families have been taking part in an annual tradition of praying the rosary in song.

Santa and Michelle Aponte and Ariana Anifantis — grandmother, daughter and granddaughter, respectively — took turns leading the rosary prayers on May 21 at St. Michael Church as part of the tradition known as the "Rosarios de Cruz."

Michelle Aponte said that she has taken part in the tradition her entire life and has been sharing it with her 16-year-old daughter since she was born. The two sang together a few times on May 21.

"This (rosary) is not only a beautiful tradition, but it plants that seed of what’s important, of what our religion is about, of what our faith is about," Michelle Aponte remarked. "That love for God was embedded in me and I want to pass that on as well."

The rosary tradition is held for nine nights every May and dates back to 1787 in Puerto Rico as a folkloric tradition passed on from the Spanish conquistadors, explained Pedro Santiago during a break in the prayers on May 21. Santiago is one of three people who first brought the Rosarios de Cruz to the former Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in Rochester from Cayey, Puerto Rico. The tradition is celebrated during May as part of the Feast of the Cross.

This form of rosary novena also is prayed in Ponce and Bayamón with the traditional music from those regions, according to a pamphlet originally produced by the Centro de Cultura Puertorriqueño de Rochester in the 1980s. Those pamphlets are still used to this day by those who lead the prayers.

Santiago said that he finds it "marvelous" that this tradition continues with younger and older generations coming together in prayer and song. He plays guitar and was one of nine musicians who lined up in front of an altar set up on the small parish hall stage. The altar was adorned with a white-and-yellow flower cross set between a statue of Mary and a bouquet of flowers.

"My people are trying to keep this tradition (alive) that was established on our island," he said. "It’s a continuation of our own Puerto Rico here."

The Labrador family moved to Rochester in 1985 from Puerto Rico and immediately became part of the Rosarios de Cruz at Mt. Carmel, explained Wanda Labrador, who attended with her daughters, Naomi and Safia. Her father, Frank, usually accompanies them. 

She has known the Aponte family since she was 13 and Michelle was 8. The two women sing together, as do their daughters, as the families take turns leading the prayers. Every night of the Rosarios de Cruz has a different feel based on the mysteries that are being prayed, Labrador added.

"Every time May comes around, and you know it’s time for ‘El Rosario,’ you get excited," Labrador said. "This is part of who we are."

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