Yes, it is alive and well!

To be honest, I did not know it existed.

The Right Revd Daniel Martins, Episcopal bishop of the Diocese of Springfield (Illinois), recently went to Cuba and wrote about his and his fellow bishops’ stay. His post, ‘Cuba Libre’, is one of the most impressive posts I’ve ever read. It comes complete with photographs. Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

Status of the Cuban diocese

Martins tells us that the Diocese of Cuba is over 100 years old. For much of that time, it was under the aegis of The Episcopal Church (TEC). When Fidel Castro took over in 1959:

with the ensuing restrictions on travel and fund transfers, it became impractical to continue the relationship, and the diocese entered extra-provincial status within the Anglican Communion, with primatial oversight provided by a panel of archbishops.

Cuba’s bishop is the Right Revd Griselda Delgado, more about whom below. She and her family live in Havana, where the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity is located.

There is one Protestant seminary on the island, in Matanzas, 100 miles east of Havana. Whilst the seminary is not Episcopalian — it was founded in the 1940s by Presbyterians and Methodists with the TEC coming on board afterward — the Diocese continues to maintain close links with it.

Although Cuba was officially an atheist country for many years, that status has since changed to secularist. Older church buildings are still standing and open for worship and activities. New plants are also springing up, such as the Church of St Mary Magdalene in Favorito. The church signs have the traditional Episcopalian welcome in Spanish:

La Iglesia Episcopal le da la bienvenida.

In addition to being houses of worship, the churches in rural areas have launched sustainable food or water programmes for local people.

Getting there

Martins explains that the Diocese of Cuba not only has links with Anglican churches in Canada but also an Episcopal church in the American Diocese of Wyoming. They were instrumental in facilitating travel for Martins and his fellow bishops:

there were resources who knew what levers had to be pulled to get us religious visitor visas (this was underway well before the recent thaw in relations between our two countries).

Once at Miami International Airport, the security checks took as long or longer than the 45-minute flight:

First we had to hand over our passports, wait around, queue up to check our bags, wait around some more, queue up again to pay a baggage handling fee, wait around some more, and finally proceed to the TSA screening area. Never has there been so much red tape and bureaucracy for such a short flight. Once inside the gate area, we were able to grab something to eat, which was a welcome opportunity. The boarding process was just as inefficient as the check-in process, and by the time we pushed back, it was about 45 minutes past our scheduled 1pm departure.

Once in Havana, the group were accompanied by a representative of the state-owned Havanatur.

The 1950 American model cars still exist and, out of necessity, are very well maintained. Hotels from the 1940s and 1950s are still open, lending another air of nostalgia. Food, for travellers at least, is mostly average in taste and quality. There is little choice in restaurants and in snacks. There are two flavours of fizzy soft drinks: cola and lemon-lime.

Interest in Christianity

Martins had interesting conversations during his stay just after Easter 2015.

Cuba’s Minister of Religious Affairs joined the group for dinner at Bishop Delgado’s home in Havana:

We enjoyed some serious conversation (via Manny wearing his interpreter’s hat) before dinner around various ways the government and churches can cooperate for the greater good of Cuban society. Interestingly, the strengthening of marriages was at the top of her list. So, what was once proclaimed to be an “atheist” state is now merely “secular,” but with a very benign attitude toward Christians (and the small Jewish community in Cuba; there is no significant Muslim population).

The following day, in the old part of Havana:

I did a little bit of gift shopping, but the highlight of the time there was a conversation (again, all in Spanish) with a vendor from who I didn’t buy anything, but who, when she found out I was from the U.S., peppered me with questions relating to how difficult (or not) it was for me to get into the country, and lamenting that she would like to visit the U.S. but the only Cubans who can get entry visas are those with family already here, and she has none. Then, when she found out I am a bishop, enthusiastically assured me that she is a Christian, and asked me to give her a blessing, which I did. What a joy, on so many levels

He also discovered:

the Episcopal cathedral in Havana holds theology classes on Saturdays. They are intended primarily to form their own people in ministry, but the classes are open to all comers. There is a steady stream of university students who attend faithfully. There is an intense curiosity about Christianity (and other faith practices) on the part of a generation of young people who are virtual blank slates, who did not grow up with it, for whom it is a fresh novelty rather than an artifact of cultural baggage.

Long may it continue.

As for the Minister of Religious Affairs:

she referred to “our Lord” and openly prayed with us. She articulated a hope for partnerships between the government and churches to attack Cuba’s social ills.

Martins observed that the tables with regard to faith are now turned in Cuba and the United States:

Religious practice was stigmatized and marginalized. Now, five decades later, this is the trend in American society, though it’s rolling out at a rather more deliberate pace … So, as American Christianity continues to enter a bit of a winter season, my visit to Cuba gives me hope that spring will indeed come. Not in my lifetime, most likely, but it will come.

Bishop Delgado

The Anglican Church of Canada website has an interesting profile of the Right Revd Griselda Delgado del Carpio, one of the first two women ordained in the country and the first woman bishop in Latin America.

Delgado is originally from Bolivia. In her student days, she was quite the political activist. For that reason, she emigrated to Cuba, accompanied by her mother and her young daughter. Once there, she later married a Cuban. She and her husband Geraldo have two children of their own.

When she first arrived in Cuba, she did a lot of soul searching. Eventually, she entered the Matanzas Evangelical Theological Seminary. At the time, religious practice was frowned on and the seminary numbers reflected that state of affairs. The ratio of faculty to students was practically 1:1. Delgado was ordained in 1986.

Although church finances are an ongoing problem, largely because of Cuba’s economic insecurity:

In recent years, there has been a sense that the IEC and other Cuban churches are growing in both membership and national influence …

Bishop Delgado has a vision for the role the church can play in this shifting Cuban culture. “Up until now the church has seemed invisible to society,” she said. “In Cuba, all people have education, all have professions, but the people are lacking values. The church is a place to bring people together, to give them identity and dignity.”

Let us pray for the continuous growth of the Church in Cuba.

Advertisements