The Pope in Cuba 
by P.F. Bentley
A young man's baptism. 

Video of a baptism.

        They call Camaguey the City of Churches in Cuba. It is reputed to be the most catholic province. But the crowd at the mass Friday seemed to be more up for a party than somber mass, even with the scorching sun. The chapel erected in Ignacio Agramonte Plaza (a revolutionary hero who, many pointed, out was Catholic) was bright pink with a canopy stenciled with leaves. It was erected next to a Soviet-style statue of Agramonte, a bronze statue of him in a concrete mass with a column like a reaching hand. From a distance the Pope seemed to have a beach chair palm throne on the stage. While waiting for his arrival, son and rumba piped a less than holy beat. There was even what sounded like religious rap to the drum machine driven  music. The steeple of a church could be seen in the distance. The church itself was weathered, like everything in the neighborhood, with broken panes of stained glass and other wise boarded up. On the church exterior a mural of Agramonte was painted with him on horseback carrying a rifle.
        ”I’m not a believer, but I feel good being here. I like the music. I haven’t really thought about the church much. It’s a mellow place to sit sometimes,” explains Teresa Mota, 39, who was wearing a skimpy halter top and is swaying to the rhythms. “Fidel hasn’t changed his mind about the church. The church has changed. The church used to have problems of racism and inequality. But they are helping us now, brining milk for the kids and stuff.”
        Il de Mar Bermudez, 30, was so thrilled to be there he couldn’t stop bobbing to the music and waving his vatican and cuban flag to the beat of the Virgin of Charity. “I don’t want flowers, I don’t want a picture, I want the Virgin of Charity,” the song went, and everyone--religious and not--seeemd to know the words. That’s more than you could say for their response during the mass. He was having fun but taking it seriously too. He stopped mid sentence, to sing the national hymn. “The union of the church and the state is the most important thing right now,” says Bermudez, who calls himself “very religious.”
        But many more were not. One husband and wife team, Juan Hernandez, 44, and Maria Elena Vivas, 40,  veterinarians from Moron some 150 kilometers away, explained their views as communists who believe in God but aren’t practicing Catholics. As they talked, a crowd formed around them to interject here and there. “Before some went to the church to do things they shouldn’t,” she explains. Clamping down some, she says, “was an historical necessity.”  Her husband saw nothing odd in a communist leader inviting an anti-communist pope to Cuba. “The Pope fights against communism and capitalism. He is for equality,” he said. “That’s what Fidel wants,” his wife put in. “If he didn’t have the same ideas as Fidel he wouldn’t be here. His ideas don’t do any harm.”
Continued on next page.
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