The feast day Mass for Our Lady of Charity -- a figure of both religious and patriotic power -- finds Cuban exiles debating whether they should undertake a pilgrimage to Cuba for Pope John Paul II's visit there in January, or stay away as long as Fidel Castro governs.
``I will go to Cuba and thank God because I belong to this universal church that is more powerful than any political system,'' said Andino Menocal, who works for a regional Hispanic ministry based in Dade. ``It's stayed alive for 2,000 years and no regime, no matter how cruel, will last that long.''
But Carlos Lamas, a corporate tax manager who is also a devout Catholic, refuses to go and risk having Castro exploit the trip for propaganda.
``Most of my friends are exiles who have been here for 20 or 30 years or more and I don't think any of the old-time exiles are going to Cuba until Castro, the reason we left, is gone,'' Lamas said.
Tonight, Cuban Catholic religious leaders will try to help their community celebrate all that binds them -- despite differences -- during a service at Hialeah Park racetrack where participants will pray the rosary and sing the Cuban national anthem.
``The most important issue is not whether to go to Cuba,'' said Auxiliary Bishop Agustin Roman, rector of the shrine for Our Lady of Charity in Miami. ``The question is how to venerate the Mother of Jesus here in this place where I am.''
Auxiliary Bishop Gilberto Fernandez, who will deliver the homily for the feast day of Our Lady of Charity -- the most important annual celebration for the Cuban diaspora -- said he expects to mention the controversy, but in a manner designed to heal divisions in the community.
``We know people are hurting because they have suffered so much,'' said Fernandez, 61, who was born in Havana and jailed as a young priest. ``I understand. I suffered myself.''
That Cubans should bring their hopes and hurts to the feast day for Our Lady of Charity, is fitting, said Dr. Thomas Tweed, a former University of Miami religion professor and author of the 1997 book, Our Lady of the Exile.
Our Lady of Charity became the official patroness of Cuba in 1916 after soldiers who won Cuba's independence from Spain, and credited the Virgin's intervention, petitioned the Vatican on her behalf.
``The annual feast day for her in Miami tends to mirror the hopes and fears of the Cuban community in exile at that historical moment,'' Tweed said. ``In 1991, as European communism was falling, there was a heightened sense of expectancy at the feast day Mass in Miami. The bishops were saying from the pulpit: Next year in Havana!
``When the rafters were flooding the shores off South Florida . . . they brought the Virgin down the aisle wearing little inner tubes around her.''
For several days, Spanish-language radio has featured blistering criticism of Archdiocese of Miami plans to hire a cruise ship to ferry 1,000 people to Havana to hear the pope celebrate Mass.
On the defensive, organizers say the trip will show support for the pope and the Catholic Church in Cuba, not Castro's government.
``Priests visit prisons, and it doesn't mean we're in agreement with the warden,'' said Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Wenski, who is organizing the trip. ``The fact the pope goes there isn't necessarily good for Castro.''
Good Catholics can disagree on whether to go to Cuba, calling it a matter of individual conscience, Roman said. In fact, while Wenski and Fernandez plan to make the pilgrimage, Roman refuses.
``I will never go to Cuba until the same government that expelled me is out,'' said Roman, who was jailed in Cuba in 1961, then expelled by Castro's government along with about 130 other priests. Roman was forced to leave with only the clothes he was wearing, and without being permitted to say goodbye to relatives, he said.
By not traveling to see the pope in Cuba, Roman wants to send a message to Castro that ``human beings have human rights and nobody should ever be expelled as I was expelled,'' he said.
Still, Roman went out of his way to praise Wenski for organizing the trip. ``Bishop Wenski is supporting the church in Cuba, which has suffered so much,'' Roman said. ``I think he's doing a beautiful thing.''
Tonight, as more than 10,000 Cubans pray the final mystery of the rosary, a helicopter carrying the statue of Our Lady of Charity will pass over Hialeah Park. People below will wave white handkerchiefs to greet her.
``It's really very touching to be able to put together your whole being, your spiritual and your patriotic feelings,'' Menocal said. ``I think if for one minute we put ourselves in the hands of God and we pray together, it will unite us. We have to forgive our neighbors.''
``Of course,'' she adds quickly, ``I am not talking about forgiving Fidel.''
Copyright © 1997 The
Copyright © 1997 The Miami Herald