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Bp. Morales Plans to Visit All Cuban Parishes

The Rt. Rev. Rafael Morales Maldonado intends to visit every congregation in the Diocese of Cuba during his time as its bishop provisional. Morales who also is Bishop of Puerto Rico, was installed June 24 at Holy Trinity Cathedral in Havana.

Morales was unanimously elected by the Cuban diocese’s Standing Committee after the Rt. Rev. Griselda Delgado del Carpio retired in March. Morales said in his installation sermon that he comes “with joy to serve the diocese and to prepare the way for [his] successor.” He expects to serve in the role for about a year, as the Standing Committee searches for the next diocesan bishop.

Bishop Delgado led the diocese to reunify with the Episcopal Church in 2018, after 52 years of separation amid the Cold War. The reunification of Cuba and the broader Episcopal Church has been hampered by the COVID pandemic, and is made more challenging by Cuba’s extreme, countrywide gas and food shortages.

Twenty-four clergy and more than 75 laypeople attended the installation, and they were joined by several of the staff and ministry leaders from Puerto Rico.

“Pray for Cuba,” Morales said to those visiting from other countries. “Here are your brothers and sisters. Here is your family!”

After the Eucharist and a luncheon, the bishop gathered the clergy for presentations by the Rev. Lorenzo Lebrija, director of TryTank Experimental Laboratory, and the Rev. Canon Anthony Guillén, the Episcopal Church’s missioner for Latino/Hispanic Ministries and director of Ethnic Ministries. Lebrija and Guillen offered support for the mission and ministry being done across the island.

Lebrija described TryTank as a lab in which congregations try new ideas for their ministries. He encouraged clergy to connect with him through WhatsApp to brainstorm ideas, address problems, and discuss potential initiatives. Lebrija committed to making himself or one of his team members available to Cuban clergy.

The Rev. Canon Anthony Guillén unpacks medicines and food that he carried in for Cuban Episcopalians. | Dana M. Jean

Canon Guillen said that when he addresses groups of Latino congregations in the United States, he often hears from them that they feel “isolated and disconnected” from the larger church. He said he did not want to assume that is the case in Cuba, and before he finished his sentence, several clergy called out, “Sí!” Others nodded vigorously to indicate their agreement.

Guillen and Rev. Lebrija expressed their commitment to helping alleviate that feeling of isolation by working to connect the clergy with others around the Episcopal Church and by being intentional about sharing resources with the Diocese of Cuba. The clergy were visibly moved by the support, and by the end of the presentation they began to share ideas about how they might collaborate with TryTank and Latino/Hispanic Ministries.

Later in the afternoon, Bishop Morales offered pastoral support to clergy and finished the day with a celebratory meal for clergy and their families. While clergy were in the pastoral session with the bishop, Guillen brought out over-the-counter medical supplies and food that he had gathered from U.S. congregations.

With help from diocesan staff and volunteers, Guillen prepared bags of supplies for all to take back to their congregations. Because of the economic crisis, medications are hard to find and extremely expensive.

The Rev. Tulia Sanchez of La Iglesia de los Fieles de Jesus in Matanzas had tears in her eyes as she received supplies. “Papá Díos is so good,” she said. “He comes to us in ways we just don’t expect! Our sister churches outside of Cuba always help when they can, with medicine, cleaning supplies, and food for the most vulnerable. ”

Bishop Morales preaches with upbeat energy. | Dana M. Jean

On the next day, a Sunday, Bishop Morales celebrated the Eucharist and preached again, stressing that the work of ministry is to prepare the way of the Lord. He asked clergy and laity alike to consider how they might do this in their daily lives and how they might teach others to do this.

“Everything I do is to prepare the way of the Lord, going to all the churches, all the confirmations,” he said. “I will visit each church in Cuba before I am finished here!”

Morale in Cuba is exceptionally low because of the dire economic situation and resulting exodus from the country, to which the clergy and laity both attest. More than 20 percent of the Cuban population is over age 60, and that will grow to 30 percent by 2025, according to a report by Mimi Whitefield in the Miami Herald.

Frank Tellechea, 20, said it can be “discouraging trying to build up the youth” of Cuba, but he found the bishop’s message “hopeful and exciting. It’s a new day in Cuba!” Tellechea is secretary of communications for the diocese’s youth, and a member of La Iglesia de San Francisco de Asís in Cardenas.

The bishop offered more encouragement to clergy as he spoke on June 25: “Be encouraged! The Lord Jesus is in charge. Never forget that God is with you. Keep the faith; keep the fellowship; and love one another.”

“God is with us and he is a God of justice and mercy,” the Rev. Aurelio de la Paz, rector of San Francisco de Asís in Cardenas, said later. “We trust in him and will keep doing the good work.”

Bishop Morales and Cuban Episcopalians spoke in Spanish, which Dana Jean translated for this report.


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