Catholicism in Cuba
Cuba is a multiracial society with a population of mainly Spanish and African origins. The largest organized religion is the Roman Catholic
Church. Santería, a blend of native African religions and Roman Catholicism, is widely practiced in Cuba. Offi cially, Cuba has been an
atheist state for most of the Castro era. In 1962, the government of Fidel Castro seized and shut down more than 400 Catholic schools,
alleging that they spread dangerous beliefs among the people. In 1992, however, the Communist Party lifted its prohibition against religious
believers seeking membership, and a year later the constitution was amended to characterize the state as secular instead of atheist.
When the Cold War ended, such restrictions were lifted and the atheist guidelines outlined in the Cuban Constitution were removed.
Catholics have been able to openly join the Party since 1990.
The country is divided into eleven dioceses, including three archdioceses. Pastors throughout the island, based on Sunday Church attendance,
baptisms and marriages, calculate that out of 11.5 million Cubans, only about 1.5 are practicing Catholics. In 1998 Pope John
Paul II made an offi cial visit to Cuba and met leader Fidel Castro in person; Castro honored the Pope publicly. Pope Benedict XVI visited
in 2012, meeting both Fidel and Raúl Castro, and Pope Francis visited Cuba in 2015.
The Catholic Church in Cuba has taken on a role dealing with social and moral issues. The Church engages in discussion with the Government
on issues such as political prisoners and free market reforms. Cuba's Roman Catholic Church leadership, in a letter to parishioners,
called on the communist-run country's leaders to “update” the political system to allow more freedom, similar to liberalization undertaken
in the economy. The statement by the Cuban Bishops Conference, presented to the press and read in churches on Sunday, praised “incipient”
reforms, such as allowing small private businesses more freedom to travel and buy personal property, and the release of political
prisoners, while at the same time urging a broader economic and political opening.
Friday, Day 1 – Albuquerque to Montego Bay
Today we meet at our international airport for our fl ight to Montego
Bay, Jamaica. Upon arrival we are met by bus and transfer
to the seaport to board our ship, the Celestyal Crystal. This
will give us time to freshen up before we sail and have dinner.
We may participate in the evening activities, with lecture
about “Visual Arts in Cuba,” or take dance lessons.
Saturday, Day 2 - Santiago de Cuba
Santiago de Cuba is the island's center for Afro-
Cuban culture and a key to Cuba's unique
personality and Shrine. We will start with a
drive by the place where the revolution began,
followed by a pilgrimage to the shrine of
“Our Lady of Charity,” also known as “Our
Lady of Cobre”. It is the national shrine of
Cuba located in the mountains outside of
Santiago de Cuba. Around the year 1608, two
native Indians, Rodrigo and Juan de Hoyos,
together with a 10 year old slave boy, Juan
Moreno, went out looking for the salt needed
to preserve the meat of the Barajagua slaughter
house, which supplied the workers and inhabitants of Santiago
del Prado, now known as El Cobre. That day they were
just able to reach Cayo Francés, halfway across the Bay of
Nipe, where they encamped to escape the fury of a storm
which would have torn their frail canoe to pieces. Calm was
restored with daybreak, and they took to the transparent sea.
In the distance, they saw a white bundle fl oating on the waves
and approaching them slowly. At fi rst they took it for a sea
bird. As it came closer, it seemed to be a girl and at last they
were able to determine that it was a statue of the Virgin Mary
holding the child on her right arm. The statue was attached
to a plank inscribed: ‘Yo soy la Virgen de la Caridad (I am the
Virgin of Charity).
Our Lady of Charity was declared the patroness of Cuba by
Pope Benedict XV in 1916 and solemnly crowned in 1936.
Pope Paul VI raised her sanctuary to the category of Basilica
in 1977. On January 24, 1998 Pope John Paul II crowned the
image a second time as queen and patron saint of Cuba. Both,
Pope Benedict and Francis have visited the Shrine and prayed
to Our Blessed Lady of Charity. We will have Mass here, and
visit with the local community. Afterward we will drive to the
Cathedral of Santiago where St. Anthony Mary Claret was
bishop. Back to the ship for dinner.
Sunday, Day 3 - On Ship
Today we will spend the entire day at leisure on the ship.
We will celebrate Mass and the rest of the
day we can participate in the various activities
on the ship. This includes “Cuban Cigars,”
Cuba's unconventional musical instruments,
rum history, meeting Cuban staff, learning
what makes Cuba different, or learning the
Monday, Day 4 - Havana
After breakfast, enjoy a brief presentation/overview by
an Architect and/or other representative from the Offi ce of
the City Historian about the Restoration/Renovation programs
taking place in Old Havana, followed by a guided walk
through the Old City area, emphasizing buildings/institutions
and community-based projects of particular signifi cance to
those of the Catholic faith . Old Havana was founded by the
Spaniards in 1519 in the natural harbor of the Bay of Havana.
Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, it is the core of the
original city. The area contains interesting architecture, much
of which has been restored, thanks to the vision of Eusebio
Leal, the city historian, and help from UNESCO. Lunch will be
at a restaurant in Old Havana, Habana Vieja. After lunch, we
will visit the Felix Varela Cultural
Center (former seminary) for a conversation with lay and
clergy regarding the religious and cultural work of the Center.
We will celebrate Mass at the Cathedral. Enjoy a Concert at
the “Convento de San Francisco de Asis.” The ship will dock
overnight in Havana. Lunch and dinner on the ship.
Tuesday, Day 5 - Havana
After breakfast, visit and enjoy a
guided walk through the Colon Cemetery. The Colon Cemetery
or, more fully in the Spanish language, Cementerio de
Cristóbal Colón, was founded in 1876 in the Vedado neighborhood
of Havana on top of Bishop Espada Cemetery. The
140 acre cemetery (57 ha) is named for Christopher Columbus.
After lunch on the ship visit a local parish and celebrate
the Eucharist. Return to our ship for dinner and overnight.
Wednesday, Day 6 – Punta Frances (Isle of Youth)
Today will be dedicated to nature and ecology. Pine forests
scent the “Isle of Youth” and mingle with orange blossoms
and warm ocean breezes. We transfer you to the beach at
Port Frances, a glorious beach of pure white sand surrounded
by crystal clear warm waters-perfect for snorkeling. Enjoy
your afternoon on the beach in the sunshine! Today we will
celebrate Mass on the ship.
Thursday, Day 7 – Cienfuegos
Enjoy the beautiful city of
Cienfuegos, “the Pearl of the South,” founded in 1819. Excursion
highlights include visits to Plaza de Armas, the magnifi cent
Teatro Thomas Terry, the Graphic Society of Cienfuegos, and
a local cultural project where you will have an opportunity
to interact with the locals. We will visit the Cathedral of Our
Lady of the Immaculate Conception, where we will celebrate
Mass and meet some parishioners. Return to the ship for our
cruise to Montego Bay.
Friday, Day 8 – Montego Bay – Albuquerque
After breakfast we will say farewell to our friendly crew and transfer
to the airport for our fl ight home. Arrive the same day.