Report on Trip to Cuba -- Valerie Jenkinson
In February 2007 a group of intrepid souls, eight from St Augustine’s parish in Vancouver, one from New Westminster and one lone Calgarian left the wind, rain and snow for the more temperate climes of Cuba. Led by the indomitable Neysa Finnie, the group was accompanied by Father Otto Rollheiser, OMI.
When one talks of going on a missionary trip images are conjured in the mind. Most people ask, “What were you building?” We built no buildings, but what we hope we built was a bridge between two different cultures and an increased level of understanding of both missionary work and the church community in a country in transition.
In one of the pre-trip meetings, Neysa had re-minded us that many of us have a tendency to be human “doings.” She cautioned that the mission would call us to be more human “beings.” This was indeed the case. Father Otto, having spent many years in South America, was the only one fluent in Spanish, although Neysa and Alain from Calgary soldiered bravely to speak and translate. For the rest of us, smiling and nodding and observing were the values of the day.
We took medical supplies and hard-to-find items with us, each person taking an extra suitcase of goods to leave behind. We visited a hospital that treats those with Hansen’s Disease (leprosy). We visited three Oblate parishes, run by priests from Mexico, Peru and Argentina. Many outlying parishes only had a handful of regular parishioners as the church struggles to come back after years of persecution. We observed what one parish is doing to support children with Down’s Syndrome and their families. We helped with catechism classes and attended the ordination of two deacons.
We traveled through about a third of the country and what stands out is, despite rationing and hardship, the indomitable cheer-fulness and spirit of the people. We were welcomed everywhere, and on leaving, left a part of our hearts with those we had met. The mission left us both humbled and enriched in spirit, and embodied the truism that we always receive more than we give.
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