By Jay Wittmeyer
Heads of mission for US religious institutions visited Cuba from Jan. 9-13, and met with key religious and political leaders to discuss the relationship between Cuba and the United States and the role the institution church can have in improving that relationship. As executive director of Global Mission and Service, I joined the delegation on behalf of the Church of the Brethren.
The delegation, which was hosted by the Consejo De Iglesias De Cuba (Council of Churches in Cuba), was well received in Cuba and granted significant access to senior officials. The delegation was covered by major newspapers and television channels.
John McCullough, president of Church World Service, led the delegation and was able to re-connect with individuals he had met in previous visits to the country. McCullough described the process underway to reestablish relations between Cuba and the US as “a period of significant changes for both countries, where the church has an important contribution to make.”
The delegation was received by Cardinal Jaime L. Ortega; Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, chief of mission at the US Embassy in Havana; Josefina Vidal Ferreiro, director general of the Foreign Affairs Ministry; and, most significantly, Miguel Mario Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, first vice president of the Council of State of Cuba, who, it is anticipated, will become the president of Cuba in 2018. The delegation was able to give two copies of the Bible, which each delegate signed.
In addition, the delegation spent significant time in conversation with officers of the Consejo, including president Joel Ortega Dopico, and with Rene Cardenas of the University of Havana, who discussed the history of Cuban-American relations from a socio-religious perspective.
A highlight of the visit was a cultural program for Epiphany that was filmed for television. The amazing production was conducted by professional performers and included singing, dancing, a puppet show, and ballet dancers who threw white confetti to simulate snow. In closing the show, Rev. Dopico reflected on the importance of religion in Cuba and the importance of such educational events. He said, “There are many uneducated children in the world; many children who are hungry and many children who are sick--but none of these are Cuban children.”
Every year in January, mission executives from mainline Christian denominations that are members of Church World Service gather for three days of consultation and discussion.
-- Jay Wittmeyer is executive director of Global Mission and Service for the Church of the Brethren.