Artist in rescue project

Por: Miguel Terry Valdespino

Capilla de la extinta Universidad de Santo Tomás de Villanueva, en el municipio de Playa
Capilla de la extinta Universidad de Santo Tomás de Villanueva, en el municipio de Playa

Scientia sine virtute vanitas.

Science without virtue is pure vanity.

Motto of the Villanueva University


A few months ago, in the interview entitled “Passion for mosaic art”, published in this magazine, I exchanged words about his life and his work with the visual artist Rael Rodríguez Capote, who has had a long and fruitful relationship with the Catholic Church, which he has served intensely since his membership and creator.

In the interview we record the contribution of the author of various mosaics that today stand out in the churches of Nuestra Señora de la Merced, in Bauta, San Antonio de los Baños and at the headquarters of the Conference of Catholic Bishops in El Vedado, as well as his impressive experience in the realization of several pieces of his authorship to give to Popes Benedict XVI and Francisco.

But since this interview saw the light until today, the Catholic Church has not stopped playing with new projects at the doors of Rael Rodríguez, although the Bautense creator regrets with regret that a mandatory retreat, a consequence of the pandemic that is hitting us, has prevented involvement in other projects of the Church which he has always served unconditionally.

However, and despite everything, today it is part of the restoration process that takes place in the chapel of the extinct University of Santo Tomás de Villanueva, in the municipality of Playa, a process to which it was summoned, at the beginning of last year, by Bishop Rodolfo Loiz Morales, parish priest of the Corpus Christi church in Havana.

As a result of Pope Francis’ visit to the Island and the tireless management of the Catholic Church, in 2014 the State had returned this property to its rightful owners, where the University was established from its foundation in 1946 by Augustinian Americans. with the assistance of European Augustinians and that was expropriated in the first years of the revolutionary process in Cuba, then converted into a warehouse for a time and mercilessly destroyed by the hand of man and the inclemency of nature for more than half a century.


Rael: un artista con una valiosa obra al servicio de la Iglesia católica.
Rael: an artist with a valuable work at the service of the Catholic Church.

On the history of this institution, Leonel A. de la Cuesta has written in his article “Evocación de Villanueva”, published in the Hispano-American culture magazine OtroLunes: “In historical terms, fifteen years is a very short period and yet in such a short space Villanueva produced fundamental innovations in terms of the creation of careers, renewal of study plans, incorporation of professors trained in prestigious foreign universities and exchanges with other Catholic and non-Catholic universities. It also opened its doors to students of different religions without the slightest discrimination and tried, to the best of its ability, to spread the Catholic Social Doctrine, especially in the years 1959-1961 through the Pius XII Social Institute ”.

Ready to breathe new life into the battered property, Bishop Loiz asked Rael if he could be part of the restoration process of the property and the artist affirmed grateful for the invitation. His task would be to restore the Italian-style arches and make two mosaics: one of the Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre and the other of the Lebanese saint San Charbel, measuring three meters high by just over 1.40 wide. Both to be placed in the first arch of the pediment of the presbytery. To place at the bottom of this, Bishop Loiz commissioned him to restore a cross and a resurrected Christ High Priest 1.60 meters high.

“Our Virgin of Charity is a symbol well known and loved by the Cuban people – the artist assures us – and Saint Charbel, a priest of exemplary life, author of numerous miracles and canonized in 1977 by Pope Paul VI, is a saint of whom Many residents in the municipality of Playa and also in Latin America are devoted.

“I invested eight months of work in carrying out these works,” continues Rael. We dreamed of inaugurating the church in July 2020, but the ravages of the covid prevented us from realizing a dream as beautiful as this one, a gift for all of us Catholics and for the necessary spirituality of the Cuban nation ”.

Precisely the challenge of bringing the Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre to a large-scale mosaic was already among his projects in the Cuban capital, an experience that would be unique in the history of the nation, but the pandemic came to stop the projects in their tracks ( although not the dreams) of various creators, including several by Rael, who decided to concentrate, above all, on working on Marti themes for his already recognized collection of goldsmith eggs.

“I am infinitely grateful to Dr. Emilio Cueto and the Abréu León family, Catholics living in the United States, for the unconditional support they have given me in order to expand the number of works in this collection,” says Rael. Emilio brought me eight books on the history of eggs by the Russian artist Carl Fabergé and together they supplied me with an uncountable amount of materials, tools and bibliography.

“When you get involved in a task as demanding as this of the covid, you do not have time to dedicate it to another. They call you at the most unexpected moment and you must let go of everything and present yourself to face the problem –he affirms-. That is why you cannot start the work with the materials destined for the elaboration of the eggs and leave it in the middle, because the materials spoil and are very expensive ”.

Always pending communication tasks from the Municipal Directorate of Culture, pending to impart valuable guidance to the population from the radio base and social networks, Rael longs for the day when, finally, the church of the University of Santo Tomás de Villanueva returns to being a finished work that welcomes in its bosom the men and women who so much need the benefits of faith.

Surely also, in the face of this resurgence of Villanueva, which no pandemic will make inevitable, many will have feelings similar to those of the Bautean artist.

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