Travelling is one of the verbs that we combine with the most pleasure and most enjoy in our life, in addition to the surprises that these trips give us, the same if you visit foreign countries and in the most remote of them you find a woman you met at a university convention held in Camaguey, thirty years ago, or if you discover at an airport in Spain a Uruguayan , a friend of another compatriot of hers you met in Cuba in the 1970s, when dictatorships in South America forced many of their citizens into exile where they were welcomed. Not only can traveling abroad produce unusual events or encounters. Travelling through our geography can give you surprises, sometimes unpleasant, but most of them cordial, comforting and even instructive.
Recently, I traveled to my homeland, Holguin, known as the City of Parks, where I left excitedly to present a book. On the way from Havana, where I live several decades ago, I was touched as a seatmate by a young mulato, originally from the holguinero village of San Andrés, to which, after passing his military service, he was placed as a soldier, nothing more and nothing less than on the Island of Youth, formerly Isla de Pinos. The very polite young man, at first quiet and then more communicative, told me that every six months he was given a pass to visit his family for twelve days, but this time, due to a subtropical depression, he had not been able to travel when he was due and was eager to get home. The journey to enjoy brief days in the homely heat is almost a feat: leave the small island on a boat that takes about five to six hours from Girona to the Port of Batabanó; from there take a bus or taxi to Havana’s central station and then get on an interprovincial bus to Holguin, from whose terminal, either on the outskirts of the city, go out on a biketaxi or walk to a subterminal, called the Balearic Islands, where you must climb to another bus for San Andrés. Of the twelve days, two go away and two others to return, so he only enjoys eight days of stay with his relatives. But he was happy, as I could infer from his words, for his profession as a soldier he likes and has learned to be disciplined. He likes to serve the homeland, as he was taught in military service, to be faithful to the revolutionary ideal. He didn’t tell me his name, but I’m sure he was speaking frankly. His eyes denounced the sincerity of his words. As the saying goes: they are the mirror of the soul.
Returning to Havana, eight days after I reached my dear Holguin, I shared a seat with a white man who caught my attention, precisely because of his youth. I was dressed not with the traditional cassock, but with those shirts that have under their neck a small strip that gives it a certain distinction, whose name someone told me, but I forgot, and that I saw for the first time, if I remember correctly, in the guayabera that Father Carlos Manuel de Céspedes wore. That’s why I soon learned that my companion was a priest. At first, there was only discreet courtesy, as he was in the aisle seat and had to get up for me to move on to the window. Before long, we were already talking. A few questions were enough on my part for Charles, so called the young priest, to tell me about his childhood and his inclination toward the priesthood. I learned a few things, for my ignorance of everything related to religions, Catholicism and curial obligations are aamal.
Charles is named after his grandfather, whose story he succinctly told me. That grandfather should have been called Charles, but the mother gave him a compound name, that of the saint born on June 13, because that day, while traveling on a ship, the son came into the world in the midst of a storm. Grandson Charles, who was now traveling by my side in a Chinese guagua, told me about his childhood. He was born in the Habanero village of Santiago de las Vegas and as a child liked to go to church, where a neighbor would take him. He liked the peace that was breathed in that small enclosure, where people came to hear the Mass said by a parish priest to which everyone loved. He joined the children’s choir that accompanied the liturgies and on that site made the First Communion, although he did not yet intend to be a priest. In her early youth she fell in love and had magnificent relationships with a bride to which she repeatedly told her about God and the mission of priests on earth as her representatives, she told him that’s what he was going to be. He was still studying medicine, the career that attracted him the most. During these early days, the cluster of subjects, the amount of mandatory readings overwhelmed him. Someone told him about a call to spend some preparatory courses for seminarians in the historic building where the famous Seminary of San Carlos, where he studied and practiced teaching, was the one who first taught us to think: Father Félix Varela. My new friend came to the beautiful building and from the first step in the colonial courtyard got caught up in that indescribable sense of peace. Eight years was in these studies that were not yet those of theology but of culture and universal literature, which included both literature and philosophy and even the personal behavior of an individual before everyday events, such as sitting properly at the table, correctly manipulating the cutlery, or the interpersonal treatment, justice and ethics that from Father Varela characterize the Cuban.
Charles is currently in charge of five churches. I did not retain the names of the five locations where he officiates, but I remember three of them: El Guatao, Santa Fe and Jaimanitas. He told me modestly how he had the days distributed so that he could exercise his magisterium in each place in a different way. And by the twinkle of his eyes and by his words I realized that he was speaking the truth. I literally remember one of the phrases that stuck with me: “I wasn’t a body doctor, I’m a doctor of the soul.”
It was a journey, mine, that, in addition to having the satisfaction of presenting my book, allowed me to meet two young people with very different professions who have in common the pleasure of what they do, the quality of being modest and the gift of communication, thanks to which I will be able to recall with satisfaction this journey to my beloved homeland. Ω
Centro Habana, June 17, 2018.