An Experience of Cuba
By E.P. Licursi and Michael A. Bird
For the past six years the youth groups of San Andres, Yonkers (Iglesia Memorial de San Andres), and Christ Church, Bronxville, have found that we are better together. Our young people meet every Monday night. We have traveled to the monastery at Taizé in the spirit of reconciliation and trust. We have met and worked with those in need in New York City and across the nation. Our kids long to be challenged and tested. They want to engage their faith. They want love to be active, not passive.
The Rt. Rev. Griselda Delgado Del Carpio, Bishop of Cuba, invited us in August to expand our understanding of “better together.” This was a gift greater than any of us could have imagined. As a mixed group, ranging from ardent capitalists to crypto-communists, the young people had high hopes for the trip. They wanted to see American cars from the 1940s and ’50s and experience the culture of the Buena Vista Social Club. They wanted to pose in front of Che Guevara murals and step back into the world of Hemingway. They wanted to ask about universal medical care and the education system in Cuba. And they were able to do it all. But what most profoundly affected them was the extraordinary generosity and spirit of the Cuban people.
Bishop Griselda arranged for us to work on a sustainable agriculture farm operated by the parish of Santa Maria la Virgen to serve the small village of Itabo. Each day we woke at around dawn and began work on the farm, directed by a group of experienced and gracious laborers. Over several days we planted banana, plantain, and coconut trees in fields of yucca and sweet potato, painted and varnished the church interior, and dug holes for new fence posts. The work was engaging and at times very difficult, made more so by the August heat. But it was always balanced by great conversation with our brothers and sisters from Itabo, and meals prepared by dedicated parishioners with ingredients grown and raised on the adjacent farm. As the days passed, it became apparent that any work we accomplished would be matched and likely surpassed by the Christ-inspired hospitality of our hosts. We definitely learned a lesson that many of us had not known: how to accept gifts from others. We spent our evenings visiting with the parish’s children and teenagers, playing games on the beach, dancing and sharing music, joining in bilingual Bible study, and walking and talking in the village.
The church in Itabo is partnered, through a decades-old program of the Diocese of Florida, with St. Mark’s Church in Jacksonville. We were the beneficiaries of that relationship, and our experience proved to us that parish and diocesan mission initiatives in other parts of the world are making a difference. Our young people, Cuban and American, were transformed by this time in communion.
As Christians we are committed to loving our neighbor, and we do important work in our local communities. But expanding our definition and experience of the body of Christ can only bring us closer in line with God’s hope for humanity. It can stretch us in new ways. One of our young people said she was no longer interested in being a “comfortable Christian,” but wanted always to remember that the kingdom of God has not been fully realized. As she said, “Love sees what is needed, and responds.”
Bishop Griselda and the people of her diocese are doing great things in the name of Jesus. They are responding to the spiritual and physical needs of the Cuban people while celebrating the unique beauty of their culture. Their vision is expansive. The people of San Andres and Christ Church hope to overcome the real obstacles of blockades and embargoes to support their growing diocesan youth ministry. We hope to expand the union of our two New York churches to include parishes in Cuba and even elsewhere. Why? Because our young people have demonstrated and experienced that we are truly better together.
E.P. Licursi is a recent graduate of Columbia University and one of the young adults from Christ Church who traveled with us to Cuba. The Rev. Michael A. Bird is rector of Christ Church.