They popularly say that you cannot be in mass and procession at the same time, but Alejandro Ariosa can. Many years ago he learned that the Church is a great family and Christianity, a lifestyle that needs to be shared with others. This has led him to have a very dynamic and active life within the Church.
I remember the first time I met him. It was December 16 at night and thousands of people made their way to the National Shrine of San Lazarus. I was just a young man who began on the path of conversion within the Catholic Church and participated, for the first time, with a group of boys to help the pilgrims who arrived in the Corner. Within that group, Ariosa, as everyone calls him regularly, was the coordinator. I was very struck by his serene and simple language to approach people and his peculiar way of performing different tasks at the same time, without losing his usual smile.
That’s Ariosa, a charismatic, laughing man who goes to meet others. There’s only one moment when he doesn’t smile: in a journalistic interview. Over time, he has preferred to say few things and do more for others.
As a young man, in the 1990s, while the country was in a difficult economic situation, he spearheaded a project called Evangelization 2000 (now known as the New Evangelization), which seeks the proclamation of God’s message with new expressions and methods.
“We started in 1992, led by deacon Manuel Hernández. I have worked, above all, in the youth area, which has to do with workshops, camps and missions. Our main goal is to proclaim the gospel, work with animators and community leaders, camp, and missionary. It was also necessary to form new evangelizers and there began the project with the courses in the schools of evangelization. There was a course at that time, called ‘The baptized must be evangelized’, and I very much agree with that, because it is also necessary, including me, to evangelize the baptized.
“We have carried out camps with the Youth Pastoral for young people of Havana and Matanzas with a view to creating in them a multiplier effect, that is, we give them workshops and they then work in their community or in their vicarage. And the camps also encourage them to have an encounter with God from interaction with nature.”
In 1993 there was a visit to Cuba by an important Catholic composer, singer and missionary, Martín Valverde, with whom Ariosa established a deep friendship. Invited by Father Lázaro Farfán, Valverde performed a concert in Havana, as Ariosa recalls, and it was in the Jesuit theatre, located in the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, in Reina. From that day on, he was in charge of accompanying him through the other places in the country where Valverde was going to offer his music as one more way of missionarying and evangelizing all Cubans. It was at that time that a friendship was established between them that he has followed for more than twenty years. Even when someone wants to manage a concert within the country with the renowned Costa Rican musician, Ariosa helps in organizing the work agenda.
An event also marked him definitively, because he discovered the universality of the Catholic Church: World Youth Day (WYD) in Rome, during the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000…
“Catholic is universal, but in that experience I felt that universality and a spiritual renewal. You don’t have to go to a WYD to feel the flow of the Spirit, because He renews us every day, but a WYD is an impulse, a joy, and a feast with many friends, a great feast of Christianity.”
From all these experiences and your vast work as a missionary, what methods do you think are most effective in bringing the Word to the Cuban people?
“One method I keep supporting is door-to-door. In my experience in the mission, in the places where I have thought that people are more hostile, they open the door for me. We are a people thirsting for the Word. There may also be other methods such as media, theatre, debates, an art exhibition, etc.
“Unfortunately, many Catholics are unaware of the importance of the mission. There are many ways to missionary, but you cannot fail to proclaim the Word. Communities need to open up. That is why many pastoral and lay agents must be motivated from the importance of the mission. This is motivated by actions, because communities must be alive and dynamic.
“In a Church like the habanera, with all our characteristics, in the ‘New Evangelization’, the essential thing is to read the Gospel and apply it with today’s methods. If we have WhatsApp we can send us some message related to that or we can project some movie in a group. That is, it is a question of using the new methods that we have without discarding the old ones, because they all help evangelization.
“And the most important thing is prayer. Mission and prayer are very close together. That’s one of the most important things. We must pray and ask for the mission to be done.”
On the other hand, Ariosa is aware that, to have distinctive results, it is necessary to do different things…
“Christianity is a way of life and the Christian needs to open up. The help of pastoral workers, who sometimes become enoched, is also very important, and when things need to be changed within communities, the answer is usually no, because they say that all life has been done that way.”
However, routine and tiredness are not part of his pastoral work. Next summer he has already coordinated together with the Youth Pastoral the realization of a camp with the New Evangelization project that will seek, once again, to bring young people to meet God and train people committed to making known the Word of God to all corners of the country, the same Word that has led Ariosa to be testimony to that joyful and familiar lifestyle of Christianity.