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Missionary and pastoral experience in Cuba

The story of Br Francisco Gearóid O’ Conaire, OFM

12 April 2024

In 2018, four missionary friars arrived in Cuba; This year we will complete six years of life and ministry in the Municipality of Playa, Havana.
We are currently six solemnly professed friars: one Cuban, one Mexican, one American, two Italians who recently arrived and one Irishman. Furthermore, there are a Cuban friar simply professed in theology, two postulants and two in our vocational programme. If all goes well, two more missionary friars will arrive during the next year.

Insertion into Cuban life
In the first two years we dedicated most of our time to learning about the Cuban reality, both locally and nationally, from the ecclesial point of view, as well as the political, economic and cultural aspects. We visited eight of the eleven dioceses during the first year and found that the inculturation week organized by the Conference of Male and Female Religious very useful.
The hospitality offered to us by Bishops, priests, religious and lay people was edifying. We were struck by the depth of affection expressed by many for our Franciscan brothers who served the Church in various places, during particularly difficult years.
We missionary friars came from various provinces of the Order, following the call of the General Curia to ensure a continuous presence of the OFM in Cuba. We assumed responsibility for the only parish remaining in the hands of the Order, with two friaries.

COVID and the lockdown
During the COVID pandemic we did our best to provide basic human and religious activities, including keeping churches open and providing the bare-bones of sacramental services, right down to visiting the sick, taking all necessary precautions. I am sure that some seeds have been sown, for example keeping our church open in the afternoon, with volunteers, in prayer at exposition of the Blessed Sacrament exposed. We decided to repair and restore our church, abandoned for decades, and it was inaugurated on the 13th August, 2022. We are considering promoting popular missions, together with other members of the Franciscan Family, in places with little pastoral support.

Biblical and theological training for the people
Following an agreement made at our Pastoral Council at the beginning of last year, we decided to provide biblical and theological support to people, organizing several courses in 2023: one on the Gospel of Matthew, then a liturgy course; we continued to reflect on the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of St. John, as well as a course on the Sacraments. We were able to organize a four-day retreat for 19 women, especially those most involved in parish initiatives. This year we started a course on Christology and Introduction to the Bible, followed by a course on the Gospel of Saint Mark.

Reaching children, young people and their families
Our neighbours belong to the Focolare Movement. They are lay missionaries. Twenty years ago they decided to take care of our friary, at a time when the presence of the friars was decreasing. Last year they organized a series of workshops for children and teenagers: dance, crafts, making and using puppets, painting, acting and singing, painting and photography. The workshops focus on technical and human aspects, as well as including ethical content. Permission to promote these courses requires government approval, which prohibits charging fees or including religious content.
This year, thanks to a Cuban friar and our two Italian friars, we have started a group dedicated to football: the whole sport, with good teachers, is ideal for supporting families in teaching children the vision of working together for the common good.

Social assistance: clothes, medicines and food
As a parish we have a Caritas office. Historically it distributes second-hand clothes, donated by families in the parish. More recently, we have organized the distribution of medicines, which are also donated by local and foreign benefactors. We also try to provide some essential foodstuffs to the neediest families. Our Social Pastoral group often visits individuals and families to assess their situation. We try to coordinate with State Social Workers when we discover people with serious needs.

Project for the elderly
Most recently, we have created a comfortable space for seniors to spend time together. We hope to offer a range of services, including games, talks, conversations and exercises, as well as refreshments.
We are also doing our best to reach young people and recognize the need to look for more creative ways to respond to their needs.
We believe that God's providence is opening doors and creating opportunities for us to serve. We see and experience the concrete results of the impulse of the Spirit, in his desire to heal and make our people whole again. There are many reasons to remain hopeful!

Br Francisco Gearóid  O' Conaire, OFM

In the pictures:
The OFM Fraternity of Cuba
The visit of the Minister Provincial of the Province of Our Lady of Guadalupe (USA), on which the Mission depends
Participants in the Bible course
The parish
Br Francisco Gearóid O’ Conaire, OFM

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