Christ’s Church on a Mission to Havana

By: Yarelis Rico Hernández

La Hermana Antonia Valverde Fernández (Hna. Toñi), asesora de Misiones e Infancia y Adolescencia Misionera en la Arquidiócesis
Visitando a Rosa de San Juan de los Yeras, con los niños de la Casa Misión de los Edificios
Visiting Rosa de San Juan de los Yeras, with the children of the Mission House of Buildings

In correspondence with the church’s work in Cuba, the Archdiocese of Havana renews its missionary action. To the important exercise of the mission home home, those committed to this work also reflect on an evangelization that takes into account not only the person, his demands and needs, but the current social scenario of the country, signed by the shortcomings and conjunctural changes.
“Announcing Christ is the reason for the missionaries in Havana,” as Sister Antonia Valverde Fernández (Hna) acknowledges. Toñi), advisor for Missions and Children and Missionary Adolescence in the Archdiocese. He assures that others tilled the land that today the current missionaries walk, and in this sense recognizes the contribution of priests, religious and lay people who, faced with an atheism at the highest level imposed, even from high spheres of power, continued to transmit faith in the small space of the temples and then, little by little, “with the walk of small steps” open to the reality of the ward , from the camps and be welcomed into some households. “Today, with fewer difficulties perhaps, but in the face of new realities just as challenging, we have to continue to missionary,” says this sister of God’s Sisters of Love, for whom Havana, as a mission territory, is already a challenge.

Isn’t the mission always a challenge of the Church? Why do you then identify Havana as another challenge?

“More than a challenge, I identify the mission as a constant action of the Church. Once we have Christ in our hearts, we must make christ known to the world. I believe that Havana is a challenge, because in the same archdiocese three provinces converge and the special municipality Isla de la Juventud. In addition to occupying ecclesially large rural and urban areas, within the urban part, that is, the capital, we find very different territories. It is not the same to evangelize in Centro Habana or Old Havana as in Playa or Plaza. Each of these municipalities has its peculiarities that, even within them, vary between one neighborhood and another.”

The Universal Church’s message for the extraordinary month of the missions, celebrated in October 2019, insisted on the call of all the baptized to become sent to proclaim the Word of God. To this exhortation, Cuban Catholics add the feeling of joy, why combine both intentions in a year dedicated to the mission?
“I have said it before, every Christian is called to proclaim the Good News, to share Jesus Christ. Doing so with joy not only responds to what the Church and Pope Francis call us, but also comes with a quality that is very typical of the character of the Cuban.
“In the face of the situation of hopelessness that we are living worldwide, Jesus gives an answer, Jesus fills our hearts, and encourages us to go forth and rise from the ashes, it is equal to saying, to come out of our failures, our frustrations, our sorrows. This year we have seen this need to advance the mission and explicitly announce, with works, that Jesus opens a path of life for us. This proclamation bears in itself two constants for which the Church and the missionary are credible: prayer and charity. In the Diocesan Assembly of Missions, the need to proclaim the Good News with charity, positivity and hope resused.”

What activities does this Missionary Year in Havana include?

“Many of the initiatives arose before the official announcement of the Missionary Year. First were the assemblies in mission houses and parishes. With these encounters, we wanted the whole community to feel part of the mission and not continue to identify it as a work only of priests or nuns.
“Then we organized the missionary meetings, the first was in the Angel Church in July 2018, and 230 people participated representing parishes and mission houses. Then we held a second meeting in November 2018 in the Church of christ of the Good Journey. The third opportunity to share was about the actions for the 500 years of the City. This time, it was a Jubilee party involving 620 people and was celebrated on January 19, 2019. Representatives of the entire diocese were, as well as children, adolescents, young people and advisers for Missionary Childhood and Adolescents. In October 2019 we held the diocesan assembly of the missions (already within the Missionary Year itself). For this assembly we took into account those who had participated in the previous meetings.
“The diocesan event has had at hand the fruit of the parish mission assemblies, where the priorities, strengths and weaknesses of the mission in the parishes were analyzed, which at this meeting were synthesized and taken into consideration to better project the future work in the archdiocese. A total of seventy-six people from missionary communities, all of us of our age, have reflected on our state in the diocese and realized weaknesses, priorities and strengths.”

What are they?

“As weaknesses we identify the lack of commitment, enthusiasm, creativity and sense of belonging that exists among community members. The second recognized weakness was the lack of Christian knowledge and formation to give reason for our faith. Finally, there was a lack of commitment to make a door-to-door mission.
“The strengths highlighted were: visiting and welcoming sick and needy people (this gesture is very common within communities). The growth, albeit slowly and gradually, of the faith community was also identified as a strength. The existence in the communities of prepared and committed lay people was also highlighted.”

Misión puerta a puerta
Misión puerta a puerta

It is to be imagined that from these weaknesses and strengths, priorities for missionary work could be more clearly organized.

“Of course, and the first priority is the care of children, adolescents and young people. In this line we insist on the need to create and promote, where they already exist, Missionary Childhood and Adolescence. In the following order, we consider it essential to offer human formation through workshops, systematic courses, and retreats that help strengthen faith and missionary service. We are talking about a formation that touches the heart, that is experienced, that is why our insistence that retreats be facilitated and not only meetings or workshops of formation of biblical, catechetical and missionary knowledge, but that we find ourselves in spaces that help us to live the experience of God, to strengthen the faith. Strength in faith accompanies missionary commitment; the person, when he strengthens his faith, wants, needs to proclaim it.
“Another priority was to improve the way we relate to strengthen the reception. In this sense, we note the importance of working together with all pastoral care and teaming up among ourselves. As I said before, all this with humility, positivity and a lot of charity.”

I see that you insist on the work of assembly and communion with other pastoral cares. How does a climate of positive relationships support the mission?

“Many of the purposes within the Church fail because we have no positive relationships between us. If we improve our personal relationships and between the different pastorals we form more communion, in the end we work as what we are, Church. Far from opposing us, what is intended is to be collaborative, non-competitive workers. So that children and adolescents also feel part of the pastoral care of the sick, for they visit them; who have a lot of catechesis because they integrate it too. What we seek are good collaborative relationships so that there is a better welcome to all and we feel helped and helping, as an active part of our house: the Church”.

A question a little related to your previous answer, what are, in your consideration, the peripheries to which the mission is called to arrive within the Church itself?

“It’s understanding. The person with whom we find it most difficult to relate, whom we find most difficult to welcome. That’s our periphery.”

And how to get on a mission to her?

“With humility, positivity and a lot of charity. If one is based on the other, even if he thinks differently from me, he has his courage, we will be able to listen to him, welcome him and respect him. That’s why we have to look for the points that bring us together.”

So, according to you, that’s our periphery: understanding what it’s hard to understand.
“And for that the key is in the commandment given to us by the Lord, loving one another. In real practice it’s about finding a way to find us. It’s possible, in my village they say ‘two don’t fight if you don’t want to.’ We have to be communication facilitators.”

And outside the Church, which identifies as the peripheries where to go on the mission?

“Our greatest periphery is those who do not come. He who has not received the message, the person who does not know Christ; and that sometimes we have very close, we have it within the family, in the neighbors, everywhere.”

You’re a missionary, what leads you to get out of your reality and go into a very different one?

“I am carried by the one who God calls me. Through my superiors I have been sent here, and I know it is He who sends me. This leads me to open my heart to people, and let them in, because it is the Lord who sends me, calls me, and accompanies me. He speaks to me through the needs of the people I meet day by day.”

Right now I mentioned children, adolescents, and youth, how and how did they want to be involved in this missionary act, and why that interest in them?

“The child is spontaneous, cute, and when he believes in something he transmits it with a very large simplicity and the message is very well received. When children missionaries, it’s hard to be rejected. You can tell him, ‘I’m not from that religious confession, I don’t believe in that,’ but the child is not rejected. The child is always welcomed. They are great missionaries and do so with great love. What we intend in Missionary Childhood and Adolescents is for children to help other children was the beginning of Charles-Augustus Forbin-Janson, when he founded this pontifical work.
“In the Youth Pastoral of the Archdiocese, Habana Missio has emerged, a missionary initiative promoted by Father Jorge Luis Pérez Soto. With more work experience, we have Country Mission, also led by young people. It is important that these experiences exist, for this is how they are realized in actions that help the Church to renew he or she. These young people, in addition to supporting in celebrations and visiting the sick, arrive at intricate places, accompany people alone, work in nursing homes, in centers such as The Golden Age, in short, they give an example of dedication and charity.
“With Missionary Childhood and Adolescent Advisors we develop training meetings throughout the year, we also offer training to leading adolescents, with a view to preparing advisors for the future. This type of meeting is organized by area, two in Mayabeque and two in Havana. In these spaces we take special care of spiritual life and try to ensure that, through workshops, games and diverse dynamics, participants receive comprehensive training. We spend some time on the door-to-door mission, that is, to go out and missionary the area; so we have visited towns near El Rincón, Madruga, etc… Another of our edges is the formation of missionaries in mission houses.”

What potentials do you identify in Cuba for the missionary work of the Church?

“My first nine years in Cuba were in the diocese of Santa Clara, specifically in Ranchuelo and San Juan de los Yeras (there were fifteen mission houses there). It was an immense world that opened up before me. The same thing came by truck as we did on horseback or walking to faraway places, so that we could share with people life and faith, not just me, a whole little team of work. This was a joyful welcoming experience on the part of simple people; reality tells you what to do: visit the sick, encourage children, prepare local catechists and missionaries, etc. Never in the mission can we lack prayer, charity and the celebration of faith, for this we rely on the gifts we have; I personally thank God for granting me to cheer with the guitar and work as a team. What I value most about the Cuban Church is the work in communion, being able to have welcoming and simple bishops who promote missionary action”.

Wishes for the future of the mission in Havana point to a continued evangelization door-to-door. The support of children, adolescents and young people will remain a great strength. For now, initiatives such as taking advantage of social media and other digital goodness are appreciated and leveraged. The great desire, towards the Second National Assembly of Missions to be held in August 2020 in El Cobre will undoubtedly be to show the rosto of a missionary Havana throughout its extensive territory.

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