The Provincial Councils of the Religious of the Assumption of the American Continent met in Cuba, April 3 - 13. Sr. Nuala Cotter, U.S. Provincial, writes of the experience:
A song from Prohibition Days encourages all thirsty Americans to head down to Havana. The chorus makes me laugh:
I'm on my way to Cuba
That's where I'm going
Cuba that's where I'll stay
Cuba where wine is flowing
Where all those dark eyed Stellas
Light their fellas' Panatellas
Cuba where all is happy
Cuba where all is gay
Why don't you plan a wonderful trip
To Havana hop on a ship
And I'll see you in C-U-B-A
Sr. Mary Ann and I were actually in Cuba for 10 days in April, from April 3-13, having received the permission of the U.S. Treasury to go there -- unlike Beyonce and JayZee, I believe and we could see the remnants of what that song is talking about. But Cuba is really different now, after 50 years of Fidel and a few years with Raoul (Fidel's younger brother) in charge. We didn't find people too happy, either more resigned than anything else. It makes sense. The houses are crumbling in the districts where tourists never go. Food is rationed and in short supply. You want fish? On this island, surrounded by the sea, they say Pollo por pescado, meaning that if you're a Cuban and you want to buy fish, you're going to get chicken. And you ought to be grateful for that. Actually, there's nothing much to buy if all you have are Cuban pesos. (Tourists and wealthier Cubans use the other sort of Cuban money, the CUC: Cuban Convertible Peso. This is the kind of money you need to buy a soda at a seaside refreshment stand in Trinidad, for example.)
The one place where we saw people genuinely happy and full of life was in church. Our sisters live and work in a large town about four hours from Havana; the people of the parish obviously know and value them very much. The sisters are not allowed to be connected with formal education, but the government does permit religious to do things related to faith. So they do religious formation for children and adults. On the Sunday we visited, all of the visitors had the chance to get to know some of the base Christian communities that our sisters founded and sustain. Imagine the joy we had to see that familiar photograph of Saint Marie Eugnie hanging on the wall of a little building. What had once been a garage was now clearly dedicated to religious activity; that's a change for Cubans -- they are more and more able to openly practice their religion. The hospitality of the people there was beautiful: tiny little cups of super strong Cuban coffee and cookies were brought out to make us feel at home.
The meetings that actually brought us to Cuba covered a lot of ground; it was good to spend time together and to talk about the issues that our provinces face, to hear what people are doing about them. Of course, since it was an Assumption meeting, we really met, gathering each day from morning to night in the shady recesses of an unfinished building on the grounds of the pastoral center of Cienfuegos. By the end, however, Sr. Mayi, the General Councilor who ran the meeting, took pity on us and off we went to Trinidad, about three hours southeast of Cienfuegos. Its a beautiful old colonial city, full of cobblestones and wrought ironwork, with lovely beaches on the Caribbean.
Back to Havana, where the streets are full of cars that would make my dad feel right at home: 1950s Fords, Chevys, Dodges, De Sotos and heaven knows what else run down El Malecon, the famous harbor boulevard. Held together by the very famous Cuban ingenuity, they run because they have to. I hope that soon those same Cuban people will be free to run as they wish. They've waited a long time.