FaithWorld

from Photographers' Blog:

A modern witch

Havana, Cuba

By Desmond Boylan

At first sight, Mayra is a typical Cuban housewife, carrying out her daily chores as so many others. But she has another job apart from those housekeeping tasks, and when she does that she looks like anything but a housewife.

In Cuba, after the last Communist Party Congress, the government published a list of 181 private jobs and commercial activities that Cubans are now able to engage in, and pay taxes on the income generated from them.

Mayra told me, “I went through the list of 181 jobs and I couldn’t find mine. I am a freelance witch, spiritualist and fortune teller, so for the moment I cannot apply for a license to legally do my job.”

Mayra’s transformation from housewife to witch is dramatic. Others had spoken to me about her but I didn’t believe them, so I had to see for myself. I’m not particularly religious myself, but after speaking to her and insisting, she invited me to a ceremony in which her husband acted as her assistant.

I visited her home several times but her clients were not particularly interested in having a
photographer there. My curiosity for the subject started to increase so I had to be patient. Usually
people involved in the Afro-Cuban Santeria religion are very camera shy and do not allow their rites to be documented. Because of that I feel privileged to have gained access to document some of these interesting occurrences.

Cuba’s Catholic Church to open first new seminary in decades

havana cathedral (Photo: Havana’s Catholic cathedral, June 14, 2010/Desmond Boylan)

The Roman Catholic Church will open on Wednesday its first new seminary in Cuba in more than half a century in a further sign of its improving relations with the island’s communist-led government.

The seminary replaces a similar school for future priests that was  expropriated by Cuba’s communist authorities in 1966 and transformed first into a military barracks, then a police academy.

Catholic officials said Cuban President Raul Castro was expected to attend the inauguration — reflecting the more cordial relations between the Church and the government. Castro turned to the Church this year to serve as an internal interlocutor as he faced growing international pressure over political prisoners and human rights.

Analysis: Catholic Church raises hopes of role in Cuban change

cuba 1The Roman Catholic Church has won praise for securing the release of political prisoners in Cuba, raising hopes it can do more to broker reforms on the communist-ruled island and perhaps even help improve U.S.-Cuba ties.

Sidelined for decades by the communist authorities until Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1998, the Church has now carved out a visible role as an interlocutor with the government, and as a possible catalyst of change. (Photo: Released prisoner Ariel Sigler Amaya in a wheelchair at Santa Rita Church as he joins the weekly protest of the Ladies in White, a group made up of imprisoned family members, in Havana June 20, 2010./Desmond Boylan)

Cuba’s Cardinal Jaime Ortega raised his voice earlier this year, asking President Raul Castro to accelerate economic reforms and end government harassment of the dissident group Ladies in White during their peaceful street protests.

Vatican official’s Cuba visit spurs new hopes for political prisoners

mambertiA five-day visit to Cuba by Vatican Foreign Minister Archbishop Dominque Mamberti, which ended on Sunday, has raised hopes that more political prisoners will be released and the Catholic Church’s recent prominence will continue, dissident and church leaders say.

“Really, we are very optimistic about the visit because there could be more releases of our family members.  This visit has been very positive,” said Berta Soler, a leader in the dissident group “Ladies in White,” whose husbands and sons are political prisoners. (Photo: Archbishop Mamberti visits a Havana school with a portrait of late rebel leader Ernesto “Che” Guevara on the wall, June 18, 2010/Enrique De La Os)

In joint appearances, Cuban officials and Mamberti repeatedly used words like “cordial,” “respectful” and “on the rise” to describe Cuban-Vatican relations, which have improved in the past decade after years of discord following Cuba’s 1959 revolution (here in English and in Spanish).

Vatican official visits Cuba amid local Catholic Church calls for change

cuban prisonerVatican Foreign Minister Archbishop Dominque Mamberti visits Cuba this week at a time when the Catholic Church is flexing its political muscle and calling for change on the communist-led island.  His five-day visit, starting on Tuesday, follows the release of one of Cuba’s estimated 190 political prisoners and the transfer of 12 others to jails closer to their homes in moves requested by church leaders.

The concessions by the Cuban government have raised hopes that more prisoners will be freed in a gesture to Mamberti, who is the third Vatican official to come to Cuba since Raul Castro succeeded older brother Fidel Castro as president in 2008. (Photo: Released prisoner Ariel Sigler Amaya carried out of an ambulance at his residence east of Havana on June 12, 2010/Enrique De La Osa)

The church has moved cautiously over the years, but in recent months Cuban church leader Cardinal Jaime Ortega has become more outspoken.  In a unusually blunt interview with church publication Palabra Nueva (PDF here in Spanish) in April, Ortega said Cubans were fed up with the country’s ongoing economic difficulties and called for the government to “make the necessary changes quickly.”

Cuban pilgrimage mixes Santeria with Catholic faith

santeria1

Worshipper pushes rock to shrine of Saint Lazarus, 17 Dec 2009/Desmond Boylan

Some dressed in sackcloth, a few crawling on their hands and knees, thousands of Cubans paid homage  to a Catholic saint who doubles as a powerful deity in the Afro-Cuban Santeria faith. The Saint Lazarus pilgrimage on Thursday is one of the most important religious events on the communist-run island, melding Afro-Cuban faiths with Roman Catholic beliefs that were marginalized for decades after the 1959 revolution.

Devotees of Saint Lazarus, who traditionally wear sackcloth and purple clothing as symbols of repentance, flock to the shrine at a church near the village of El Rincon in the countryside just outside Havana.  Saint Lazarus is associated with helping the sick, and many of the pilgrims go to ask the saint to cure relatives’ ailments. Others make long, hard journeys barefoot or haul themselves along the ground on their hands and knees.

Experts explain this fusion of Santeria and Christian figures by saying that African slaves in Cuba originally pretended to worship the Catholic saints of their Spanish masters while secretly paying homage to their own deities.

Cuba authorises first prison religious services in 50 years

cuba-prisonThe Cuban government has given permission for religious services to be held in the island’s prisons for the first time in 50 years, a church official has said.

The services will be allowed in all prisons where the inmates request them, said Marcial Miguel Hernandez, president of the Cuban Council of Churches. (Photo: Combinado del Este men’s prison outside Havana, 31 March 2004/Claudia Daut)

“For us, it’s an expression and act of good faith by the Cuban authorities,” he told Reuters.