June 5, 2009

Faith, Hope and Charity / David Siler

Faith fills Cubans with hope

David SilerLocated a mere 90 miles off the southern tip of Florida lies the seventh largest island in the world: Cuba.

Due to the closure of travel to U.S. citizens, many Americans know very little about Cuba. The island is 745 miles long and has 42,803 square miles, contains 2,321 miles of coastline and is home to more than 11 million people.

What most of us know about Cuba is related to the government that has been in power since Fidel Castro gained control more than 50 years ago and has been passed on to his brother, Raul, these past couple of years. Much less is known about the Church and the people who inhabit this Caribbean island.

I recently returned from my third visit to Cuba. For almost 10 years now, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis has had what is called a “global solidarity partnership” with the Archdiocese of Camaguey, Cuba—a large geographical area located just east of the middle of the island.

This partnership, facilitated by Catholic Relief Services, has allowed several members of our local Church to visit our sister archdiocese in order to establish a working relationship with representatives of the Church in Camaguey.

I made my first visit to Cuba in 2005, when we spent the bulk of our weeklong visit in Camaguey. I immediately fell in love with the members of the local Catholic Charities family (called “Caritas” in Cuba) who were so warm and hospitable. They care so lovingly for the poorest of the poor in their towns and villages. During this most recent visit, we were thrilled to learn about the growth of the Catholic Church in Cuba.

After the revolution in 1959, Fidel Castro ordered that religion no longer be practiced in the country and the churches themselves be closed. Pope John Paul II made the first-ever visit by a pope to Cuba in January 1998. Following his visit, Castro agreed to return the churches to the people and allow the practice of religion.

As you can imagine, trusting that this new-found freedom would last and that attending church was really safe after almost 40 years of fear was slow to come by.

But during a meeting of our delegation with Archbishop Juan Garcia Rodriguez, he reported to us that the Church there is exploding with growth. He said that the people are finally beginning to trust that it is safe to gather for Mass and are learning the immense value of belonging to a community of believers.

This most recent trip reminded me once again about the great power of faith and hope. With so few material things to bring comfort and security, the Cuban people cling to the things that can never be taken away—faith and hope. They are a living testament to Hebrews 11:1—“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen.”

Look for more information and ways for you to become involved with our partnership with Camaguey soon on our archdiocesan Web site at www.archindy.org.

(David Siler is executive director of the Secretariat for Catholic Charities and Family Ministries. E-mail him at dsiler@archindy.org.)

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