Tag Archives: Cuba

Saints Cornelius and Cyprian

Cornelius

Today the church celebrates two early saints and martyrs, Cornelius, a pope who died in 253, and Cyprian, a bishop who was martyred in Roman Africa in 258.

At that time, the Roman emperors Decius and Valerian were demanding absolute loyalty from their people, as barbarian tribes in the west and the Persians in the east began invading Roman territory.

To prove their loyalty, Romans were expected to offer sacrifice in honor of the emperor. The Christians refused, so at first church leaders were executed or imprisoned, wealthy, influential Christians lost their property, their positions and possibly their lives– all Christians could expect punishment for not performing the rites of sacrifice.

The persecution was widespread. Cornelius was bishop of Rome, Cyprian was bishop of Carthage, an important Roman province. In the Roman persecution, many turned away from their faith; after it ended they wanted to return to the church they once knew. Hard liners called for them to be banned for life for their lack of loyalty. Let God judge them when they die, they said. Others, like Cornelius and Cyprian, called for welcoming them again, since God is all merciful.

Mercy and justice are always hard to reconcile. The Sunday gospels we just read seem to come down on the side of mercy. So should we

A Gift from the Holy Spirit

By Orlando Hernandez

In this Wednesday’s Gospel (Mt 11: 25-27 ) Jesus prays to His Father:

AT THAT TIME JESUS EXCLAIMED: “ I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him. “

It is lovely to hear Jesus pray. Lately, in Scripture reading and in prayer, I have come to truly relish those moments when I find myself witnessing the relationship between the Father and the Son. I almost feel invited to be part of this Divine love-dance. The requirement to participate seems to be to become as small, humble, accepting, trusting, and carefree as a child.

I used to think of the Person of the Father as the tough, judgmental, aloof one, as opposed to my Lord Jesus, the loving, forgiving, understanding “older brother”. But Christ, from the beginning of my conversion, has come to “reveal” our Father in a special way for me.

I must have been about five years old when I got very sick after emigrating to Venezuela from Cuba. It seems I had a respiratory infection that kept me out of school for a long time. My parents told me even my liver was affected, and I was jaundiced and very thin. I remember very little, but I truly believe that my Lord placed this vivid memory from that time into my heart :
At the end of a long, hot day at work, my father, Orlando Sr., had just come into our one-room apartment and sat me on his lap. I idolized the man. He had a faint “ aroma” of sweat, cigarettes, and cologne. The stubble of his beard tickled my cheek as I hugged him tightly crying “Pappy!”. He felt so refreshing against my feverish skin. I looked into his shining eyes, and the bright blue color seemed to flow like rivers and waterfalls over all that was me. I just knew that everything was going to be all right. I was delighted to be in his arms. Now I wonder, was he weeping over me?
Sixty-two years later, every time I

quietly, privately, slowly say the Lord’s Prayer, the image of this memory colors my perception of my Heavenly Father, loving, forgiving, adopting me, holding me in his powerful arms, accepting me within His blissful immensity. I truly feel like a kid. At some point during that prayer I always remember to say “ Thank you Jesus, for showing me how your Father really is.” I don’t ever want to leave this
“heaven”, this “kingdom”, this child-like trust in this Will that only wills the best for me, and for all of humanity.
“I give praise to you,Father, Lord of heaven and earth.” I love You so much! Thank You!

Orlando Hernandez

Discovering Him

 I retired about ten years ago. My husband, Orlando and I had great plans for our retirement. We wanted to travel, to relax, to have fun! But that wasn’t to be. God had other plans for us! Orlando’s parents in Florida got very ill and we were needed there. We became snowbirds , 6 months here and 6 months in Florida. Around that same time Orlando and I baptized our fourth grandchild, Isabel in a church if Florida. The day of the baptism our son and his wife had a surprise for us. After the baptism we were able to renew our marriage vows in front of our Lord Jesus Christ. For us that was very special because we had not gotten married in the church, we had been married about 25 years but at the court. It didn’t matter to us back then. We had spent over 40 years without God, at that time a church wedding hadn’t been important to us. Neither one of us had come from a religious family. When the priest started blessing us and our rings something happened to us in that ceremony. We were crying and laughing both at the same time. Grace was being poured on us from above!

    After that experience Orlando started convincing me to go to church on Sundays. He had been caught by the fever! Jesus had gotten his hands on him. Not so for me! Going to mass was a burden. Many times I would leave the church worse than how I had gone in. It was boring and ritualistic. But yet I wanted to make Orlando happy, so I would go. For some reason around that time I started having the urge to get married in front of God. I loved Orlando so much that I felt that maybe this would make our marriage even stronger.

    I had never been confirmed. My parents weren’t very religious. In Cuba, where I come from, I got baptized and had my First Communion but after that church did not come back into my life. Here in the U. S. life was hard. We were refugees . The Catholic Church was a great help but it didn’t inspire us to go back to it.

Well you can see what my problem was. I tried to marry Orlando in the Catholic Church but then I found out I needed to be confirmed. Was it worth it? Did I really need to marry Orlando in front of God? How was I going to work it out? I was here in NY for 6 months and in Florida the next 6 months. How would it work out with RCIA? You know now I realize that God had a plan for us as a married couple. Things worked out between our local parish here, American Martyrs Church in Bayside. NY,  and the local church in Hallandale Beach, FL where we were renting.

     In 2011 I was finishing my RCIA in St Matthew’s Church in Florida. We were told there was going to be a four day Mission at the church. We weren’t sure what that was but yet we were intrigued by what it might be. The first day we were there a priest all dressed in black with a giant heart on the left side of his chest, a giant rosary hanging from this thick belt, and a giant crucifix in his hand came to the pulpit and introduced himself, ” I am Fr. Vincent Youngberg and I am an alcoholic. ” That was a great way to start! He was a sinner just like me! During the next few days with his story and his preaching he slowly brought me closer to understanding why I was doing what I was doing. He led me to believe that Jesus, that God, wanted a relationship with me. He helped me to believe that he did exist!

The last day of the Mission Fr Vincent led us in a meditation. He said:

    “Everyone please close your eyes. Now imagine yourself sitting on the sand. You’re watching the ocean, relaxing under the warm sun. From the corner of your eye you notice a person walking towards you. You can’t see him well yet, but he looks like he might be walking straight for you. He is getting closer and closer and your heart is beating faster and faster because you can’t believe your eyes. Suddenly you realize that the person you saw in the distance that now is so close to you is no other than our Lord Jesus Christ. He comes close to you extends his hand towards you and gets you to stand up…..”

    Fr. Vincent continued but I was no longer listening. I was face to face with Jesus! I couldn’t believe what was happening to me. I was crying and laughing. I couldn’t find words to say, but I didn’t have to. He took me in his arms and said, ” Berta, you have no idea how much I love you. I have been wanting you to open the door to me for a long time. I am so happy that you are in my arms now. I will never let you go!” I had melted into his body. The hug he was giving me was delicious! Life was perfect. But then I became aware of Fr. Youngberg’s voice again bringing us back. I didn’t want to leave my Jesus, now that I had met him. But it was time and we had to part. I was back in the church crying like a little girl. They weren’t tears of sadness,no , they were tears of joy! Now I understood! I had been looking for him all my life, but didn’t know it. I knew for many years that there was something missing in my life and on that beautiful Lenten day I found it . God put Fr. Vincent Youngberg in my path. He was the one that led me through the whole process. My husband, my son and his wife, Isabel my granddaughter, the RCIA teachers and volunteers, the priests with their homilies, the new friends I had met in church, they all had a hand in leading me to meet Him!It was all designed by Him!

    In 2011 I became confirmed  during the Easter Vigil at American Martyrs Church. That summer Orlando and I convalidated our marriage on August 7, 2011 in front of our dear God, our family and our friends. In September 2011 I had my first retreat at Bishop Molloy Retreat House in Jamaica, Queens. I had found out that Fr. Vincent was a Passionist priest and his order had a Monastery and a Retreat House 15 minutes from my house! Orlando and I felt the need to go to the Holy Land and in November 2011 we joined a group from Texas and ended up with a Franciscan guide and our beautiful Lord Jesus leading us !

    All I can say about my new life is ” Thank You Jesus for your Love, and the blessings and grace you have brought into our lives! ” “Thank you for the beautiful Passionist priests that are now our friends, thank uou for the prayer group we are part of, thank you for my new friends, thank you for knowing that I am never alone! I love you my Triune God, without you I am nothing!!!!!”

Berta Hernandez

Fidel

fidel

Dear Lord,

     The death of Fidel Castro, Cuban dictator, brought joy to many and sadness to others. In Miami there were celebrations in the streets of Little Havana. In Cuba there were nine days of mourning. Many of my friends ask how I feel about the death of Fidel. I’m neither happy nor sad. As a Christian I don’t rejoice in someone’s death. What I do is put them in Your capable hands, my Lord. I’m no one to judge!

     I’ve been praying for Fidel’s soul. Unfortunately I can’t forget that because of his political views and cruel policies generations lost their country and way of life. Torture, executions, imprisonment, all took place if you dared to disagree with any of his policies. Freedom no longer existed. Indoctrination began! Your churches, Lord, were closed. Prayer and religion were no longer necessary, we now had Fidel.

     My mother decided that she needed to leave Cuba for my sake and her own. In 1962 we became refugees. Thanks to the U.S., which opened its arms to us, we began a new life. It wasn’t easy, my God. Here we were penniless in a new land facing a new language and new obstacles. But with the help of family, the U.S. government, and the Catholic Church hope began to spring up and we survived.

     We left Cuba, my God, afraid and without much hope. We left Cuba because one man lost his way and the need for power overwhelmed his ideals. Fidel did have wonderful ideals, but the dark side won, in his case.

     I’ve been in the U.S. now for over fifty years. I’m in love with You, my Lord Jesus and I have to admit that happened here in the U.S.. Good things happened to most Cuban refugees. Most of us survived. We progressed. We lived full lives. But we never will know what could have been. The Cuba of today is nothing like the Cuba of yesterday. For some it’s very sad, for others it’s life. For me it is Your will, my God! May You, our Lord and Savior have the mercy on Fidel that he neglected to have for many of his people.

Berta Alvarez-Hernández

The Pope in Cuba

If you want to know what Pope Francis is doing in Cuba, read this homily he gave there yesterday:

We are celebrating the feast of the apostle and evangelist Saint Matthew. We are celebrating the story of a conversion. Matthew himself, in his Gospel, tell us what it was like, this encounter which changed his life. He shows us an “exchange of glances” capable of changing history.

On a day like any other, as Matthew, the tax collector, was seated at his table, Jesus passed by, saw him, came up to him and said: “Follow me”. Matthew got up and followed him.

Jesus looked at him. How strong was the love in that look of Jesus, which moved Matthew to do what he did! What power must have been in his eyes to make Matthew get up from his table! We know that Matthew was a publican: he collected taxes from the Jews to give to the Romans. Publicans were looked down upon and considered sinners; as such, they lived apart and were despised by others. One could hardly eat, speak or pray with the likes of these. For the people, they were traitors: they extorted from their own to give to others. Publicans belonged to this social class.

Jesus, on the other hand, stopped; he did not quickly take his distance. He looked at Matthew calmly, peacefully. He looked at him with eyes of mercy; he looked at him as no one had ever looked at him before. And this look unlocked Matthew’s heart; it set him free, it healed him, it gave him hope, a new life, as it did to Zacchaeus, to Bartimaeus, to Mary Magdalen, to Peter, and to each of us. Even if we do not dare raise our eyes to the Lord, he looks at us first. This is our story, and it is like that of so many others. Each of us can say: “I, too, am a sinner, whom Jesus has looked upon”. I ask you, in your homes or in the Church, to be still for a moment and to recall with gratitude and happiness those situations, that moment, when the merciful gaze of God was felt in our lives.

Jesus’ love goes before us, his look anticipates our needs. He can see beyond appearances, beyond sin, beyond failures and unworthiness. He sees beyond our rank in society. He sees beyond this, to our dignity as sons and daughters, a dignity at times sullied by sin, but one which endures in the depth of our soul. He came precisely to seek out all those who feel unworthy of God, unworthy of others. Let us allow Jesus to look at us. Let us allow his gaze to run over our streets. Let us allow that look to become our joy, our hope.

After the Lord looked upon him with mercy, he said to Matthew: “Follow me.” Matthew got up and followed him. After the look, a word. After love, the mission. Matthew is no longer the same; he is changed inside. The encounter with Jesus and his loving mercy has transformed him. He leaves behind his table, his money, his exclusion. Before, he had sat waiting to collect his taxes, to take from others; now, with Jesus he must get up and give, give himself to others. Jesus looks at him and Matthew encounters the joy of service. For Matthew and for all who have felt the gaze of Jesus, other people are no longer to be “lived off”, used and abused. The gaze of Jesus gives rise to missionary activity, service, self-giving. Jesus’ love heals our short-sightedness and pushes us to look beyond, not to be satisfied with appearances or with what is politically correct.

Jesus goes before us, he precedes us; he opens the way and invites us to follow him. He invites us slowly to overcome our preconceptions and our reluctance to think that others, much less ourselves, can change. He challenges us daily with the question: “Do you believe? Do you believe it is possible that a tax collector can become a servant? Do you believe it is possible that a traitor can become a friend? Do you believe is possible that the son of a carpenter can be the Son of God?” His gaze transforms our way of seeing things, his heart transforms our hearts. God is a Father who seeks the salvation of each of his sons and daughters.

Let us gaze upon the Lord in prayer, in the Eucharist, in Confession, in our brothers and sisters, especially those who feel excluded or abandoned. May we learn to see them as Jesus sees us. Let us share his tenderness and mercy with the sick, prisoners, the elderly and families in difficulty. Again and again we are called to learn from Jesus, who always sees what is most authentic in every person, which is the image of his Father.

I know the efforts and the sacrifices being made by the Church in Cuba to bring Christ’s word and presence to all, even in the most remote areas. Here I would mention especially the “mission houses” which, given the shortage of churches and priests, provide for many people a place for prayer, for listening to the word of God, for catechesis and community life. They are small signs of God’s presence in our neighborhoods and a daily aid in our effort to respond to the plea of the apostle Paul: “I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (cf. Eph 4:1-3).

I now turn my eyes to the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, whom Cuba embraced and to whom it opened its doors forever. I ask Our Lady to look with maternal love on all her children in this noble country. May her “eyes of mercy” ever keep watch over each of you, your homes, your families, and all those who feel that they have no place. In her love, may she protect us all as she once cared for Jesus.