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3 August

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The emotion of the people of Cuba



Fourth centenary of the Virgin of « Caridad del Cobre », Patroness of Cuba

01/08/2011: Cuba

Greetings from Cienfuegos, in Cuba. I bring you news that I found encouraging and which may bring you joy too. At the heart of events is the Virgin of « Caridad del Cobre », Patroness of Cuba. We will soon be celebrating the 4th centenary of the recovery of the image, which was floating on the sea. This was in 1612. The written testimony of one of the three eye witnesses of the event can be found in the Archives of the Indes in Seville.

My news has to do, this time, with the emotion of the Cuban people. The Virgin arrives, punctually as expected, on a little lorry. The scene is repeated dozens of times, in front of the people nervously waiting: several dozen under rain or sun, if it happens in open country, under shade. Four thousand, like a river, in the larger towns. And always to the rhythm of familiar tunes emphasized by the horns of the cars. « It gives you gooseflesh », the people say. It is the religious expression of a whole people, 50 years on.

The people emerge onto the street with the joy of the feast. The procession is flanked by the police. It is good to take into account the more than 50 years of  silence, when expression of the faith went hand in hand with bans, reproaches, heavy losses, exile, threats, « you will not be readmitted to the university », « you will have no work », « religion is an opium », « your relationship will have repercussions… »

I tell myself that the Catholic Church is today, for these people, a sure place and a place of hope. Am I the witness of the silent, humble and suffering presence of a people who knew how to wait? I do not know, but it seems to me that I am in train of touching even if only a few « seeds and harvests ».

The pains in our hearts, you and I know them. On these pages I quote the prayers of simple people, written in the visiting book of my parish. You can draw your own conclusions, in reading the people’s hearts.

The chronicles of these days are full of testimonies of a beautiful feast everywhere the Image of the Virgin passes. And she will pass right over the island, from east to west. She has already travelled more than half way, one diocese after the other. She arrives in little villages, country houses, squares and churches, to receive the homage of the people, who launch spontaneously into verse. With very modest means, the communities decorate the streets, hang up banners, light up humble scenes.

In the photo I am sending, you can see my quarter, made up of simple buildings (identical throughout the country). The programme prepared seemed to me too poor: four hymns, well sung, against background music. And the people (who mostly ignore this world of faith), listen with respect, applaud warmly and chant the « Guantanamera » with words to the Virgin.

But attention! The most astonished in this sea of people surrounding me are the Cubans themselves! After 55 minutes of spectacle, the procession sets off. Everyone repeats loudly: « Mother, bless our families! »

What I supposed to be a threat to order has become a support: dozens of children with their parents hold the giant cord so that the Virgin’s vehicule can clear a passage as it moves forward… In the church, one can understand the programme better: a very simple Marial vigil, a night of visits, Dawn Rosary, blessing of the children early before they go to school, blessing of the pregnant mothers, Mass with incense, and… back to the street to visit other quarters on what are called « house-missions ». You know, the people light candles, pray in silence for several seconds, take photos of the image, receive an image to put in their purse, give money… I have the impression, like so many others, that « someone has visited me and brought me great peace ».

But on the other hand, not so fast, wait a second! You think that in Cuba there is only « this  spectacle of simple faith »? Far from it! The youth know ever growing problems; the weak economy which makes it difficult to reach the end of the month; families experiencing the sad separation « between Havana and Miami », in the words of the song of the Bridge, by Ricardo Arjona…and many other difficult situations. Problems? Lots of them.

And in spite of that, the bishops of Cuba have decided, among other things, to celebrate the 4th  Centenary of the Virgin of « Caridad », moving forward, step by step, over a whole year. You know, the critics, the politicians, the specialists will lay out their ideas in the columns of the newspapers with a view to influencing public opinion. As for me, plunged in the real world, I have experienced what I am telling you, surprised by this unexpected gift of unity. It seems to me to understand that the Spirit of God is clever enough to stir up, out of this social chaos that each organizes or suffers where he is, A WIND OF HOPE AND PEACE FOR THE BENEFIT OF ALL.

I am happy to show you the heart of the Cuban people, while blessing the Virgin for visiting them.


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