The participation of the largest Cuban delegation to World Youth Day in Panama has generated expectations of renewal and change for the Cuban Church.
Two years ago Eliany Diaz never imagined that the realization of one of his dreams could be so close. She is one of the young women committed to the Church who will travel to Panama in January 2019 to celebrate World Youth Day (WYD), which will bring together hundreds of thousands of boys and girls from all nations with the aim of making christ’s message known and creating an atmosphere of coexistence to share and reflect together on the fundamental themes of existence.
However, his path to participation in WYD has led to many sacrifices. “When we learned that this event would take place in a country close to ours, we began to raise funds on our own and with the help of our parents. We just went out to festivities and the school’s stipend also kept it,” he explained.
But, the month of September 2017 arrived and much of the country was hit by Hurricane Irma, a very damaging weather phenomenon. It seemed that everyone focused their attention on helping the victims. However, two months later, although many families were still suffering from the losses of their property, outbreaks of hope came to Cuba with the arrival of the signs that will preside over this important event.
The WYD Cross, a symbol that represents the hope of the Christian people in the face of pain, accompanied the young Catholics of Havana on their journey through the archdiocese, especially the periphery of the city, where the cyclone made the greatest impact.
The reception of these badges took place on November 5 in the municipality of San José de las Lajas and then they headed towards the diocese of Pinar del Río and later returned to the Archdiocese of Havana on the seventh day of the same month. Upon arrival, the Youth Ministry organized a Viacrucis through the streets of the capital. During the following days, the signs toured the villages of Cojímar, Alamar, Bauta, San Antonio de los Baños and El Rincón.
Pope Francis, driver of hope
The ability to dream of many young people like Eliany who wanted to participate in WYD was not a casual event, it was part of the legacy that Pope Francis left them in the meeting he had with them during his visit to the island in September 2015.
The center of their words was destined to motivate them to seek new paths by hope: “Open yourself and dream, dream that the world with you may be different. Dream that if you do your best, you’re going to help make that world different. Don’t forget. Dream.”
But Francis’ impact didn’t stay there. On 11 February this year, the Bishop of Rome expressed in a message that the Synod of Bishops on “Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment” and WYD are a good coincidence, as the Church’s attention and reflection is focused on the new generations.
“The Lord, the Church, the world, also await your response to that unique call that each receives in this life. As the WYD of Panama approaches, I invite you to prepare for our meeting with the joy and enthusiasm of those who want to be part of a great adventure. WYD is for the brave, not for young people who are only looking for comfort and who go back to difficulties,” his Holiness concluded.
For Sr. Iyala Farías, who belongs to the congregation of the Daughters of Charity and leads the group of young university Catholics in the capital, this impulse of Pope Francis represents a special moment to grow in young people the experience of following Jesus. “WYD is a renewal in their lives and God has wanted it to take place shortly after the Synod,” he said.
Months after what was expressed on February 11, His Holiness also dedicated a moving message to young Cubans: “I encourage you to fall in love with Jesus, to have an increasingly concrete commitment to the service of the Church, in this particular Cuba today, without fear of hearing God’s call in the situations that arise every day”. In addition, in his words there was the idea that through WYD in Panama and Santiago de Cuba, Cubans can deepen their faith and in the construction of the Cuban Church today and tomorrow.
Havana stars in the registration process
Since September, the media has echoed the news of the participation of more than 400 pilgrims from the Major of the Antilles to the WYD of Panama, representing the largest Cuban delegation in the history of such events.
Behind the joy of this information is the work of many people and pastoral agents within the country to carry out the dream of many Cubans. Since the opening of registrations for the great event, the National Youth Pastoral Commission has asked the Habanera archdiocese for help in the formalities of all pilgrims on the island. This meant that diocesan pastoral care needed the collaboration of dozens of volunteers to assist with the formalities in July and August.
“It struck me that as the youth went on to leave their documents in the archbishopric’s offices, they spontaneously stayed to help. Pastoral care did not call on young people, we were ourselves, out of a sense of belonging, who decided to dedicate our holidays to help,” Eliany says.
Young people take the lead
Since September, initiatives have been developed in different areas to train WYD pilgrims. In November, for example, regular preparation meetings began. “These meetings are for laying hearts. The first thing is to know about the importance of participation in a WYD. Formation must have a motivational, logistical and spiritual part, which should not be reduced to a sending mass, but should be prepared and pondered,” explained Joeluis Cerutti, one of the leading pastoral boys.
He also spoke of the need to develop the potential of each of the youth so that the journey would enable them to transform their lives and the life of the Church in general.
For her part, Neifer María Rigau, who is the national animator of Mission Country (missionary grouping), comments that for some time the project has periodically made a space for prayer, called “hOra x Cuba”.
In this regard, he stated that the themes implicitly revolved around this preparation for the Day. “It is necessary to link the festive with the mystical because it is very important that young people live the experience and internalize it,” he said.
Formation is also promoted within parishes. “In my community we have had several catechetical meetings where we have been preparing on WYD issues,” said Wendy Pérez.
The charism of unity also present at WYD
The Archdiocese of Havana experienced this year an unpublished event in its history. Between 10, 11 and 12 August he witnessed the first local GenFest, a festival where different young people from all the realities of the island went beyond any frontier to live the experience of fraternity.
This spirituality of GenFest has remained for these months among the young people who participated. “We had meetings where we have delved into realities of our faith such as the Holy Spirit, the life of Mary, the charism of unity and all this has also prepared us to form for WYD,” said Virgen Caridad Peyrellade, a member of the Focolare Movement.
On the other hand, for Jose Lázaro Fontes, the coming activity of January is a good opportunity to have a greater awareness of the universality of the Church.
At the bottom of all these pilgrims’ expectations for the upcoming WYD, there is deep gratitude for God’s new path for young people. By the way, Brian Gavilán, one of the boys who leads the Lay Missionaries of Mercy project, said: “We will not have to pay the Lord for all these wonders he is putting in our hands. There are moments of hope in the future of the Church in Cuba.”