Thursday, May 19, 2016

Churches play vital role in Cuba

Churches play vital role in Cuba

Havana is world-renowned for its colonial architecture and profusion of
colourful vintage cars. However, if you ask to those of us who visited
the city as part as part of the first-ever International Justice
Camp,* chances are you might hear more about a former state-run
psychiatric hospital turned nursing home known as The Colony or the
co-operative urban farm in Nueva Havana.

This May, I had the privilege to travel to Cuba as part of the justice
camp, and The Colony was one of the places we visited for an immersion
experience on economic justice.

I had never been to Cuba before, and despite having attended an Anglican
church for almost nine years, I still consider myself new to the
tradition, so when I boarded a plane full of Anglicans of all ages from
across Canada for a week of social justice education, I had no idea what
to expect.

Over the next week, the group of 25 Canadian and 25 Cuban participants
in the camp would attend a variety of plenary sessions at the Roman
Catholic Retreat Centre, located beside the beautiful Bay of Matanzas,
in the city of Matanzas. In these sessions, we learned about the history
of Cuba and the role of the church in the tumultuous events of its
history, from the 1959 revolution through to the so-called "special
period" after the collapse of the Soviet Union, in which economic
conditions in Cuba worsened drastically and church-funded projects had
to fill in many gaps in the state social safety net.

However, this was a justice camp, not a justice conference, which meant
we would be learning experientially as much as theoretically, explained
the Rev. Bill Mous, director of justice, community and global ministries
of the diocese of Niagara, who helped organize the camp.

When the larger group dispersed to locations around Cuba to delve into
topics like food security and social engagement, I boarded a bus to the
capital city of Havana as part of a group focused on economic justice.

Many tourists visit Havana—once known as the Paris of the Caribbean—to
enjoy the stunning diversity of architecture (Colonial, Baroque,
Neo-Classical, Moorish and Modern) and to explore the other sights and
sounds of the port city, often in a vintage automobile.

But we didn't come here as tourists; we were bused around the capital
visiting various projects made possible by Canadian and Cuban
partnerships. At the Cuba Emprende business training centre, I was
struck by the passion of students learning about private enterprise for
the first time—although Canadians take private business for granted, it
has been allowed only very recently in Cuba.

When we visited The Colony, I was amazed at the resourcefulness and
optimism of both patients and staff, despite the many difficulties they
faced (for instance, much-needed renovations have stalled due to lack of
state funding).

At a co-operative urban farm in the neighbourhood of Nueva Havana, the
farm operators had devised a system for making their own feed for their
goats, chickens and rabbits because animal feed was not affordable.

From dreams of private business to an innovative approach to urban
farming, a common theme was independence and sustainability. Projects
aimed to empower people to change their own lives, rather than offer
short-term solutions.

By the time the week was over, we were sunburned and tired and
surrounded by new friends. As we boarded the bus to the airport,
Archdeacon Andreis Díaz Dorta, priest-in-charge of the Cuban mission
station in Bolondron and one of the camp organizers, encouraged us to
return home and share with our communities the incredible things that
are possible when Canadians and Cubans work together toward the reign of
God. I think I can safely say for all participants of International
Justice Camp 2016, it will be impossible to do anything else.

* The International Justice Camp, held April 30 to May 7, was a joint
initiative of the Episcopal Church of Cuba, the diocese of Niagara, the
Anglican Church of Canada, The Primate's World Relief and Development
Fund and the Anglican Foundation of Canada.

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