This quote is said by Patria, soon after her husband Pedrito, son Nelson, and sisters Minerva and Mate, are arrested and imprisoned. She is referring to the mandate that every household in the Dominican Republic display a portrait of the President and dictator, Rafael Trujillo. In the Mirabal house where Patria grew up, the required portrait had been hung beside another of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. In the Catholic tradition, it is customary when passing by a symbol of Christ to bow one's head or whisper a prayer in acknowledgement. Patria is so used to the picture of Trujillo being displayed next to that of Jesus, that even when it is hung alone, she "(catches) (her)self praying a little greeting as (she) walk(s) by."
In her desperation, Patria eventually finds herself actually praying to the picture of Trujillo. Her action is not sacriligious in the sense that she by no means believes he is worthy of praise. On the contrary, Patria prays to Trujillo because she wants something from him, and, in her simple way and in her deeply ingrained religiosity, praying for it is the only way she knows how to ask (Chapter 10).