Sixteen years ago, 1999, it seemed almost impossible that I would come and live on this island located opposite the Atlantic Ocean, doubly isolated, and about whose life little was known!
Today, after eight years living in Cuba, I feel that I am part of this reality to which God brought me through the Institute. It is a complex and painful reality and one which requires loving if you wish to remain within it because God-with-us seduces us to incarnate more and more, suffering in our own skin the sufferings of those who were born Cuban. “De tanto amar el lirio se hace uno lirio también” [Loving a Lily that much, you become one as well.] (Dulce María Loynaz, La Habana 1902-1997).
The Catholic Church is a minority and our ability to act as a religious order is limited by the civil authorities. The priests and a minority of religious people are Cuban, mostly they are foreign missionaries. In this context, religious life in Cuba has grown in its self understanding from the spirituality of what is germinal, similar to the grain of wheat which is small and in order to bear fruit must fall into the ground and die. (cfr. Jo 12,24).
Since the beginning of this school year (2015-2016) we have been a community of four sisters: Ana (Spanish), Beatriz (Chilean), Lucía (a Spanish sister who lived in Ecuador for twenty five years) and myself (Portuguese). In the two previous years we enjoyed the presence of Tita Pedroso (a Portuguese sister) and Sandra Pinto (Chilean) for a year each. In the summer we were happy to welcome four sisters that came to reinforce the community: Teresa Gallo (Argentinian), Carina Barcia (Ecuadorian) and Encarna González and Helena Cervera (both Spanish). We are an international community!
Currently there are two more presences: one in Caibarién (coastal city, located in the north of the Central Province of Santa Clara) and the other one in the city of Santa Clara (capital city of the province and of the diocese). Part of the week Ana and I live in Santa Clara and at the week-end we meet the other sisters in Caibarién.
Our pastoral activity is developed in collaboration with the parish and the diocese. From here, our repairing charisma and our mission to promote the education in faith find fertile ground where to take root.
We accompany groups for children’s catechesis, adolescents, young people, adult training groups. Quite a lot of people prepare for the catholic sacraments of initiation. One of the sisters manages the Caritas group and the Pastoral Health Care. We have a small IT project which takes place in the lobby of our house. Two sisters animate the communities of two parish chapels. I establish relations with the Sector of Culture of the Popular Power in Caibarién as we go along and we organise some joint activities, namely during the Week of Cuban Culture.
Three of us have coordination responsibilities at Diocesan level: catechesis commissions, adolescent apostolate and youth ministry; diocesan training centre; coordination ministry of one of the diocese’s deaneries or parishes. One sister participates and supports the diocesan team related to the missions.
This year, with the second presence, we’ve started to support a chapel which is about to become a parish. Besides the chapel, the priest also supports six Mission Houses and has four more waiting because there is a vast portion of land where the presence of the Church is not yet felt. The Mission Houses function in pastoral areas where there is no church nearby. Because there is great transport difficulty, the citizens cannot move to participate in community life. So, there are Christians who make their houses available for catechesis, for the celebration of the Eucharist, and for the administration of the sacraments. Normally the houses are small and very simple.
There is one house I particularly like: the house owner is called Bárbara, so the community is under the patronage of Saint Bárbara. The living room is so small that people have to sit down the whole time during celebration of the mass, all the space is taken up. Every week a new person shows up and just last week there were people sitting down in the kitchen which is also very small. From the room to the kitchen there is no door so that during mass one can see a mango tree through the open window, and one can see the stove where there is always a coffee pot, ready to be served. People come and go and sit down, because there is still room, and the owner of the house, amidst laughter and chit chat, distributes cups of coffee. In a festive and friendly atmosphere, people get together. I run into the house, greet everybody, have a coffee and leave towards another house where I meet a group of five adolescents and a youngster, a girl. The owner of the house is the mother of one of the adolescents and the room where we meet is tiny: our knees touch as we sit. The house owner used to tell me that the only time her father had really got mad at her was when she was a girl and stood in front of the house waiting to get in. And that was the reason why she had so much trouble participating in church life. I believe that it was due to the contagious joy we live, due to the priest, who is very close and affectionate with everyone, and because God works his way into each one’s heart that she started participating in the celebration of the Eucharist, so she could be baptized.
At the end of the school year, we’ll have the celebration of the JMJ (World Youth Celebrations) in Havana, concurrently with the JMJ in Krakow. This will be a three day meeting in which a delegation of youngsters from each of the dioceses of the Island will be participating. It’s the second time that we carry out such an endeavour. Around here young people do not have the possibility to save money in order to pay for their subscription and to travel. Thus the Cuban Church, which is a poor congregation that lives with the support of projects, gives only one or two youngsters from each diocese the possibility to go to the world meeting. What about the other young people? We celebrate them right here! However, it is a true challenge to our imagination and creativity and to cooperation to prepare this celebration because its costs are so high and the budget is so small.
To live in Cuba is a God-given present which I am thankful for and I owe to the Institute!
Living in Cuba is an opportunity to touch inner life, and thereby, to understand God!
Maria Eduarda Barata, aci