Interview with the redemptive father Fulgencio Guerrero Castillo.
“… there is abundant redemption in Him.”
Motto of the congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer.
Surrounded by humble houses is the parish of Christ the Redeemer, separated from the cemetery of the town by one of the four ways that communicate the village with the capital. There the religious of the Mission of the Most Holy Redeemer have been doing their pastoral work for some years.
The parish priest arrives at the interview by bicycle. A ceramic reproduction of the original icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Relief adorns the facade of the house. We sit in a modest, fresh, well-lit room, where an oil painting of San Alfonso María de Ligorio, founder of the redemptorist mission, stands out.
Tell us about your presence in Cuba.
“The oldest presence of missionaries dates back to 1926, but it is in 1931 that they can be definitively established. It was in Santiago de Cuba that the first House was canonically erected. The second was established in Havana in about 1936. Spanish redemptorists worked in these cities until 1959. Due to serious conflicts with the Cuban Revolution, the two communities were expelled from the island in 1961.
“Forty years later, exactly on May 21, 2001, redemptive missionaries return to their work on the island. On this second occasion came initially two Paraguayan brothers who were entrusted with the parish of Nuestra Señora de los Dolores de San Nicolás de Bari, located in the town of Nueva Gerona, Isla de la Juventud”.
And in Regla?
“A few years later, in 2005, the parish of Christ the Redeemer was first assumed by our order in this municipality and then, in the same year, the Parish of the Miraculous Medal, in Guanabacoa.
“There are currently four of us: Fr. Wilson Duarte, superior of the Redemptorist mission in Cuba and pastor of the Miraculous Medal (Colombian); Fr. George Gustaves Noel, Vicar of St. Nicholas, Isle of Youth (Haitian); P. Maximus of the Saints Otaño, parish priest of the previous (Dominican) and this server.
“The work of the community of redemptorists here in Regla is the accompaniment of communities, which is a pastoral care common to all parishes, but specifically in Regla we have dedicated ourselves more to the sick and also to those most in need. We have helped these people with individual spiritual support, but also community support through liturgical celebration and in difficult times we have done so with clothing and medicines.
“These activities are carried out not only in the parish of Christ the Redeemer, but also in the rules chapels of Our Lady of Guadalupe, belonging to the Sisters of The Love of God and in that of St. Joseph, located in the distribution Lídice. In addition, we visited some families to pray, although at the moment, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, masses and prayer house meetings are suspended. But once there were, when I arrived at Regla in 2018, exactly 27 months ago, there were several houses of prayer whose work was coordinated with the pastoral plan of the diocese and had considerable participation.
“Our mission in Cuba is a little difficult because of the difficulties we have encountered with regard to pastoral care, which is also aimed at children and young people. In catechesis, even though we have the same initiatives of the other parishes, we do not achieve equal results, perhaps it is because of the social situation where our parish is located, which causes us not to persevere in these activities and the catechumes attend classes two or three times and then do not return.
“To whom it has taken a lot of work to catechist is to the santeros, although I clarify to you that I thank you very much because they have shown commendable behavior at all times, but in terms of pastoral care progress with these people becomes laborious. They attend church only for baptism and to ask for eternal rest for their families in the masses of the deceased, but there is no integral or consequential participation in the activities of the Catholic Church.
“I confess that the redemptive mission here in Cuba, from an economic point of view, causes considerable expense, it costs a lot to have a foreign missionary on these missions here. These communities are supported by the aid we receive from other redemptive units in other countries that support this mission. The parents who are here supporting the mission, we are borrowed, to put it in some way, to the Cuban mission, because we change residence periodically, and that is why I think it is a very beautiful and interesting task because at the same time that you fulfill missionary activity, you know other cultures, other idiosyncrasies.
“The congregation is international, it is present in more than 180 countries. My homeland, Colombia, has been supporting the Redemptorist mission in Cuba for some time now. After 2022 there will be a new reform and Cuba will become supported by Costa Rica’s redemptive unity. And we will move on to other redemptive communities in Venezuela and Ecuador.”
Since it arrived in 2018 to date it has seen everything: cyclones, intense scaopers, tornado, coronavirus pandemic. What can you say about it?
“The phenomenon that made the most impression was the tornado of January 27, 2018, where the house became a support center and aid warehouse. We were supported by the Protestant brothers, it marked me for good. Other atmospheric parameters that affect me are climate change, humidity, especially heat, I am more of cold weather. I’ve had a hard time adjusting to the schedule, too.
“With regard to the rains… well, I must confess to you that there was a storm, for the month of November last year, that surprised me in the middle of the road between Arango and Minas, by bike, with nowhere to be saved, and it made me think that I was on an island in the middle of the sea, that anything could happen, and there I realized my smallness as a person. It was also an unforgettable experience.
“When the pandemic arrived the initial enclosed was imposed, we were all afraid, we thought that anywhere was the virus, until with the days we started to leave, taking all the health precautions recommended by the specialists. We adapted to the new situation, and I began with my usual displacements between christ the Redeemer and the Miracle without as much fear as at the beginning. Everything was normalized, until the Eucharistic celebrations resumed in December, but then they were suspended by the new wave.
“My future plans do not depend on my wishes. I am here under the orders of the provincial of Colombia. My immediate project is to be available to the sick. Later, I will most likely be changed country and in that sense I only expect God’s will. At this moment the redemptorists are organizing our houses, and we wish to continue to strengthen the charism as St Alfonso asks us ‘the help of those most in need’ and depending on how the country evolves, to return to the houses of prayer and spiritual accompaniment. Those are my plans.
“I would like to thank Our Lady of Perpetual Relief[i] and the New Word magazine for this opportunity to make known the Mission of the Most Holy Redeemer in Rule, and especially to God, who has allowed me to live this experience in Cuba, because He has put me where He believes I should be. I have seen that Cubans are very good people, thriving, sparking, pushing forward and that is what I will take in my experience as a missionary from a country with few resources. Thank you.
Thank you, Father, for your time.