Our time with the Missionaries of Charity
7/24/08 - 8/5/08
Arrival in Havana
We arrived in Havana on the afternoon of July 24th, two days before the national holiday commemorating the Assault of the Moncada Garrison, a date widely recognized as the beginning of the Cuban revolution. Many of our friends and readers may be asking how we got into Cuba, given the realities of the Cuban embargo. Because Francis has family in Cuba, we applied and were granted permission to travel to Cuba to visit her family by the Department of Treasury, through the Office of Foreign Assets Control. The electronic application is very easy and straightforward. You can find it here: http://treas.gov/offices/enforcement/ofac/abarrs/index.shtml We got the OK to travel within 48 hours.
Not to long after our arrival, we were greeted by Francis' sister Adriana, who is a sister with the Missionaries of Charity. She picked us up with Sister Monesha in a 57 Chevy.
It was weird to be transported in a 57 Chevy with a DVD player. As the driver blared his music video, we could feel the car vibrating violently below us. This is one of many examples of the paradoxes found in Cuba. We will elaborate on this more in a different posting.
Adri and the Sisterhood
We visited Cuba in part because of Francis’ family history. Her grandparents fled the island soon after the revolution. Forty-eight years later, Francis’ sister, Adriana, would return to live in Cuba as a nun for the Missionaries of Charity.
Adri has been with the Missionaries of Charity for 9 years. The order was founded in 1950 by Mother Teresa of Kolkota, vowing to give "Wholehearted and Free service to the poorest of the poor". Now the order has over 4,500 nuns in 133 countries all over the world.
Adri serves the Missionaries of Charity in Cardenas, a small town in the Province of Matanzas, and just 30 minutes from Varadero, the country's premier beach resort. Her multiple musical and artistic talents, energy, and love has made her a favorite of the congregation.
Church of San Antonio
The Church of San Antonio serves a large section of the city of Cardenas and is the home church of the Missionaries in Cardenas. Unfortunately, due to the thirty year ban on religion, constant neglect of all physical infrastructure, and lack of community funds, the pretty church is falling apart. Part of the ceiling collapsed in the 90s and the rest was taken down to prevent an accident. After being battered by a flurry of hurricanes, the roof has sprung significant leaks. The leaks are so large and numerous that you can see the sky above it and mass is frequently stopped during afternoon downpours.
Church of San Antonio
Religion in Cuba
For three decades after Castro's revolution, Cuba was a godless country. However, the government failed to replace the lost principles of religion with something else. The communist values turned out to be not much more than idealism and government propaganda. A whole generation of Cubans grew up in a spiritual vacuum.
Fidel did an about face on religion when he invited Mother Teresa to come visit Cuba in 1986. She persuaded him to let her open a mission in Cuba. Today the Missionaries of Charity have six missions in Cuba. In 1998, Pope John Paul II made his historic visit to Cuba. In spite of Cuba's evolving relationship with religion, widespread practice is still uncommon.
Our evolving views on religion
Our views on religion have evolved substantially through the course of our travels. We have seen how religion (Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, etc.) provides people (especially the poor) with the strength to continue struggling and the discipline to be a better person. Our time in Cuba was especially noteworthy. The spiritual vacuum in Cuba was particularly obvious. Broken households are the norm and neither girls nor boys seem to be taught the virtue of modesty.
We won't pretend to be the best advocates of religion, especially not for the Catholic church, who's present and historical shortcomings have been well documented. In fact, we never would have imagined ourselves writing about religion, especially not in a positive light. However, from our observations over 5 months of traveling, we realize that whatever shortcomings religion may have, in Cuba, and in many other parts of the world, it can do more good than harm. To that end, we admire and support the work that the MC's are doing in Cuba and around the world.
Francis sharpening pencils in preparation for an arts and crafts project
Volunteering with the Missionaries of Charity
We did multiple volunteer projects with the Missionaries. On one occasion, Francis help the girls do an arts and craft project, while I helped tame the wild boys by releasing their energy.
In another instance, we accompanied the Sisters to the country side. There we sang some songs and did another arts and craft project at a rural village. Because religion is still relatively unknown to the new generation of Cubans, the evangelizing is very lite and subtle, not the hard sell many may imagine. In fact, the MCs are in Cuba primarily to help the poor and to gain the community's trust. It is no surprise that they are so loved.
Village kids at the arts and craft project
Pig at the local village
A Very Special Mother Superior
As is the case with the communities they serve, the Missionaries of Charity very quickly won our love. In particular, we came to deeply admire and respect Sister Loretta, Mother Superior of the San Antonio Convent where Adri serves.
Sister Loretta combines several magical traits that draws the community towards her; an intense desire to serve the community, limitless love and energy, and an amazing sense of humor. We are so happy to have her to watch over our Adriana.
Adri had laser eye surgery in Cuba, hense the nun-goggles