Thursday, February 15, 2018

Cuba in 2018: Healing the Wounds of History

Praying the Litany of Reconciliation in Havana on Friday noon February 9, 2018
Returning from Cuba always fills me with mixed emotions.  The trips, especially leading large groups, are often emotionally draining and physically taxing -- the physical part due mainly to long days and an unsteady adjustment to the water and food.  

From February 1st to the  10th I returned to Cuba along with 16 others from the Community of the Cross of Nails.  We were 13 Americans ("North" Americans while traveling in Latin America), the Canon for Reconciliation from Coventry, England, a German Lutheran pastor and a South African CCN representative.  The theme of our pilgrimage was "healing the wounds of history."  You can read about the roots of this global network committed to pray and work for peace and reconciliation at    The wounds of history are not hard to see when visiting Cuba, a country in many ways frozen in history and with decades-long conflict and political standoff between the U.S. and Cuban governments with no end in site.  

Our group was intentional in starting out our pilgrimage in Miami, the heart of the Cuban-American community.  We met with community leaders who support human rights activists in Cuba and who actively lobby the U.S. government to keep in place many of the trade restrictions against the Castro-led governments. I personally wanted to hear their stories, because I have long been frustrated with what I have seen as the "Cuban lobby" being obstacles for change in a decades-long stalemate of politics towards Cuba.  We also had an excellent "Cuba 101" lecture and conversation with scholar from Florida International University.   
Our group gathers in Miami at Florida International University for a pre-trip lecture on Cuba with Prof. Jorge Duany 
We shared the Coventry story with the good people of Todos los Santos Episcopal Church in Miami, led by their rector Alex Hernandez.  Alex is son of the Cuban bishop I worked under in 1986.  Todos los Santos is considered the first Hispanic Episcopal Church in the U.S. where Spanish was offered.  A wonderful meal of Cuban food was offered to get us ready for the trip.  We heard stories of Cuban Americans who have lived in the U.S. for decades who sent along greetings for peace for the Cubans we would meet on our pilgrimage.  Most did not confront politics head-on, but wanted to convey the family ties between the two close yet distant countries.  

After flying from Miami into Holguin in the eastern part of Cuba, we traveled by bus to Santiago de Cuba, the country' second largest city.   I had the opportunity to preach (in Spanish) at Santa Maria church, which was presented a cross of nails in the 1990's. At each gathering, we shared the Coventry story: a cathedral bombed in a war, and out of the ruin came a call for forgiveness and a desire to reach out to one-time enemies and create a culture of peace. Out of death comes resurrection. Out of brokenness healing is possible.  
The final resting place of Fidel Castro in Santiago de Cuba.  A surreal experience visiting the grave of a man seen by history in so many conflicting ways.

A local merchant in Havana selling some precious vegetables,
but at higher prices post Hurricane Irma
We visited the Episcopal Church in Guantanamo, a city only miles from the infamous American naval based known for the detention and reported torture in post 9/11 combatants.  We viewed a water system that Christ Church Exeter donated three years ago and delivered new filters and replacement bulbs for the U.V. system.  

All told, after my wife Leslie stayed behind to visit our daughter-in-law's family and visit our companion church in Cardenas, in 10 days in Cuba we passed through 4 Cuban airports, visited 5 church, and I had the opportunity to preach on 3 occasions in Spanish.

How is Cuba right now?  I would have to say not good.  They are still living through the impact of Hurricane Irma last September that destroyed the season's crops and devastated large tourist areas. Like many Caribbean countries, Cuba is dependent on tourism to support the economy.  

The recent Trump Administration restrictions have also severely reduced the number of Americans coming to Cuba, after a surge of travelers came in 2016 and 2017 after President Obama reestablished diplomatic relations and resumed regular commercial air travel.  Visas to visit the U.S. are not being processed in the nearly empty U.S. embassy, thus impacting the lives of many Cubans who have been long separated from family members.  

One thriving Airbnb's are empty and many classic American cars are sidelined in Havana.  Many of the people I spoke to felt discouraged by recent events.  In addition, there is growing anxiety and uncertainty in the upcoming transfer of power from Raul Castro this year, which has been delayed for unknown reasons.

Cuba is a tough place right now.  

It is our hope that these trips bring an expression of solidarity and concern -- that the Cuban people and our sisters and brothers in our churches come to know that know and care about them. The water systems that we are able to transport and install are humbly received by people who are resilient and inspiring beyond words.  

Pray for Cuba.  
A bittersweet portrait of President Obama in Havana, whose openings to Cuba showed much promise for closer ties
A member of our group, Rick Miessau, testing the water coming into a Havana
church from the street
Canon Sarah Hills preaching and later presenting a cross of nails
to the First Baptist Church in Matanzas 
Erique the Cathedral painter sending greetings to my son Will, who lived in Cuba
for a year in 2013-14
Donations brought to Cuba and delivered to Fr. Halbert in Santiago 
Seeing an old friend Bishop Suffragan Ulysis 

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