In homage to the Christian celebration of Easter & the Resurrection this post contains images I took at Churches in Cuba & share what I learned about Catholicism in this communist country. I am not Catholic nor do I regularly attend the Protestant church I belong to. However I consider myself a spiritual person respecting the moral guidance of a higher power. “Do unto others…” is the best guidance I’ve learned.
To say religion in Cuba history has twists & turns is an understatement. Spaniards colonized the island in alliance with the Pope & shared in the bounty. The Slave Trade, a cornerstone of Cuban economics, became a moral issue the Vatican could no longer condone. Most priests assigned to Cuban churches were from Spain & associated with the monarchy & the elite ruling class. Revolutionaries in the late 1800’s proclaimed the church was not the voice of the common people. Skip ahead to 1959 & the Castro brothers, who had gone to a Jesuit high school, understood nationalism & religion are contradictory. In Communist countries state atheism is promoted.
With the collapse of the USSR in the 90’s, economic hardships & social changes edged the government to evolve & declared the nation secular. In ’98 Pope John Paul II visited Cuba followed by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012. In 2015 Pope Francis made a huge step in moral diplomacy attempting to resolve the divide between Cuba & neighboring United States. Along with Catholicism are dogmas from Afro-Cuban religions that have been preserved & evolved. I did not experience any of those traditions.
Having survived this turmoil between church & state I found magnificent Catholic Churches in the cities I visited. Usually they were built near colonial designed plazas, which served as a commons in developing towns. From a rooftop in Camaguey I saw the steeples of 7 grand churches. The architecture influence is diverse & the physical conditions vary greatly. But, most structures have been cared for despite withered congregations. Architectural photography isn’t a genre I have much experience or success with. Nonetheless many of these spaces are free of poles & wires to spoil the frame. It’s a rare opportunity to have numerous options to photograph a building.
I spoke with Father Marco at his parish in Camaguay. He is from Mexico’s International Mercy Congregation. Shortly after his ordination in 2012 he came to Cuba. His multi-faceted perspectives were insightful. We discussed the contrasting ways of the people as well as their deep roots to the church. He remembers being embraced when he arrived & believes Cubans hospitality & respect for manners are what make them so friendly.
After his 10am Saturday Mass we discussed the continual changes people are experiencing. He feels a trait many Cubans poses is the ability to adapt & they are somewhat open minded about reforms that are coming. In his brief time in Cuba he has seen the government try & do more for people in rural areas. And he has had access to prisons, health institutions & even universities. Father Marco believes these are big steps & opportunities to spread the message that with belief in God all things are possible.
His love of the Cuban people includes their more casual attire when attending church compared to his native Mexico. He also noted that they hug & kiss instead of just shaking hands like he experienced growing up. Religious life is much more flexible. Father Marco also spoke of how the resilience of the Cuban people was integral in conquering hardships. In some ways I believe Father Marco’s mission to make people happy is made easier because cheerful is part of their being.
A natural role for any religious leader is preparing followers for what lies ahead. I asked him what his dreams were for the Cuban people. He had three. #1 The government system will realize that people can make more of their own decisions. #2 people who are close to the economic needs & problems should come up with solutions. #3 an emerging need for more religious/human values, which have eroded since the 90’s with more attention to money. He also hopes Cubans abroad do not abandon their history.
I developed ideas similar to what Father Marco’s dreams are as I was doing research for this trip. I’m not smart enough to understand the best path to make those ideas a reality or if even if I have a deep enough understanding of the problems. What I did observe is that in a society where much rebuilding is needed, churches have a solid foundation & have been maintained suggesting a religious culture with respect for history. In facing the unknowns of the future knowing where you came from has value.
The future has many contrasting forces Cubans will need to navigate. Since I was totally off the grid during my trip I observed technology nipping at interpersonal interactions along generational lines. I hope they survive the flood of information from the Internet. Emerging changes in Cuban society could lead to self-centered perspectives. My prayers for our neighbors are to not abandon the values that allowed them to collectively survive. Dreams are based on unique blend of our past, personal motivations & hope for the future. I wish for Cuban people the ability to make good decisions.
The content of these postings are based upon my observations, conversations with my guide, interviews with people interpreted by my guide & interactions I had with people I met. Any mistakes are entirely mine with no intention to mislead.