Welcome! This blog celebrates both the local and the catholic -- that is, universal -- aspects of the Roman Catholic Church by sharing reflections on experiences of the Church in a variety of settings and cultures. Postings will come from around the world and around the corner. You don't have to be a Catholic to come along.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Praying for Cuba

When I am saying grace by myself, usually at breakfast and lunch, I always pray for the people of Cuba. This is how that came about:

In April 1998 I took a course in Caribbean theology in Cuba as part of my studies for a Doctor of Ministry degree. That was only a few months after Pope John Paul II had visited the island. Posters displaying his likeness were still common, along with communist slogans as well as ads and T-shirts for such familiar consumer products as Coca-Cola, Reebok, Pepsodent and Jameson's Irish Whisky.

During my time in Cuba my interactions were mostly with Protestant theologians and ministers, but I did get to visit the San Carlos seminary (pictured here) and take part in Mass at the Cathedral in Havana.

The baroque 18th century Catedral de San Cristóbal de La Havana is located on a bustling square filled with hustlers, prostitutes and tourists. In fact, the prostitutes spill over into the Cathedral and approach the tourists; bouncers ask them to leave.

Sunday Mass at the Cathedral was awe-inspiring -- dynamic, moving, spirit-filled and joyful. Ten children were baptized, only one of them an infant. The priest was enthusiastic and animated as he preached (of which I understand not a word). The choir and the music, very Cuban in its beat, were top-notch. A couple of the parishioners, one of them a lector, wore T-shirts with pictures of the pope.

At the end of the Mass the classmate I was with, a Presbyterian minister, and I introduced ourselves to the priest. "Pray for us," he said. "We have a lot of work to do." And he blessed our foreheads with the sign of the cross.

Everywhere I went in Cuba people asked for prayers, but that priest's sincere appeal is the one that I remember best.

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