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.