Easter Week 2019 I led my largest group to Cuba through my many visits: 21 members of Christ Church in Exeter, New Hampshire along with our bishop Rob Hirschfeld. Traveling during school vacation, we were blessed to have seven young people travel with us. We spent five days in Cardenas and two in Havana. Christ Church has a companion parish relationship with San Francisco de Asis in Cardenas, which began with my friendship with its rector Aurelio de la Paz when we were students together at the seminary in Matanzas in 1986.
With 23 travelers total we were able to carry more than 1000 lbs. of supplies and donations to be distributed throughout the island. Christ Church, along with the Exeter Rotary Club, has donated more than nine water filtration systems over the past four years. We remained committed to resupply and help maintain the various donated systems through regular visits. As this point, the only way to reliably transport supplies are to carry them in with travelers. Christ Church also funded three Cuban young people to attend an upcoming regional conference in Panama this summer.
The goal of our trips is to create space for encounters and fellowship. We ate meals with people of St. Francis, our young people spent time talking, playing soccer and sharing photos and posts from social media (like most young people everywhere) and we celebrated a joyful Sunday Eucharist celebration with the Bishop of New Hampshire preaching about how the Risen Christ invites us all to come closer. We come away each visit feeling blessed and filled with the Holy Spirit.
We were able to meet with Cuban clergy and Bishop Griselda and updated them on the progress of the campaign to fund Cuban clergy pensions as Cuba re-enters The Episcopal Church after last summer’s vote at General Convention. They shared their deep appreciation.
I found the situation on the ground to be one of a “holding pattern,” as global events such as the unrest in Venezuela and tightening of policies towards Cuba by the Trump Administration impact the lives of many average Cubans. We heard stories of the shortages of food stables, such as rice and cooking oil, which is not uncommon. Having visited Cuba shortly after the diplomatic thaw of the late Obama years, I can only wonder “what if” events had not taken the direction they did.
On a personal side, my wife and I had a chance to spent some family time with the mother of our Cuban daughter-in-law from Cardenas.
Our friends in the Episcopal Church in Cuba remain faithful through difficult days. Difficult decades in fact. I believe and hope that our ongoing visits and support of their ministry and convey our affection for them. We are already planning our next visit.
The Rev. Mark Pendleton April, 2019