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  • Marilyn Peterson

Florida Cuba Companionship Update




By Marilyn Peterson, Holy Trinity-Gainesville, October 2020

BACK DROP SCENARIO: While US pre-pandemic policy had already restricted travel to Cuba to the bare minimums, the Pandemic in mid-March 2020 caused a complete closure of all travel between the US and Cuba. And the current US administration has continued to cut Americans’ ability to send money and goods to Cuba down to mere dribbles for only non-communist family members (via Western Union). By March 14, 2020, the Cuban government imposed a home lock-down and all the COVID-19 precautions when its first epicenter of 9 infected cases showed up in Florencia, Ciego de Avila. In addition to instituting first responder care, tracing, and other instructions, an adorable “how-to” video was quickly circulated throughout Cuba, electronically available for viewing at the footnote below.*

BUT THE GOOD NEWS FOR A CHANGE: On the cusp of Pandemic awareness in the US, March 6-8, 2020, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church Michael Curry, his entourage from New York, nine Bishops from other American dioceses, and various principals from the national Friends , including Julia Sullivan and Marilyn Peterson representing the Diocese of Florida, had just arrived in Havana to celebrate the Reunification of the Diocese of Cuba back into the US Episcopal Family TEC after 57 years of separation. Bishop Griselda Delgado and all the clergy of Cuba were officially subscribed into the TEC records on Saturday and Bishop Curry commenced his invigorating sermon with the chant of “We Are Family,” which Sister Sledge melody spontaneously echoed throughout the halls and grounds of the Cathedral Santísima Trinidad for the rest of that historic weekend.

Photo by ENS Lynnette Wilson: Two-and-a-half-year-old Elena leads her grandmother Bishop Griselda Delgado and TEC Presiding Bishop Michael Curry out from Saturday’s service and ceremonies.

The next day’s Sunday services acknowledged incorporation of the Diocese of Cuba into Province II of TEC. The Bishop of New York Andrew Dietsche delivered a stirring sermon, simultaneously interpreted by the Rev. Yamile Bass-Choate. The many attending international guests, including Marilyn and Julie from the Diocese of Florida, shared their gifts and comment with all the Cuban clergy and witnesses of (now retitled) The Episcopal Church IN Cuba (no longer “of Cuba”). [Next Photos by Marilyn Peterson]

The very next day March 9 the reality of the COVID-19 hit the USA. Bishop Curry, back in New York City (the pandemic epicenter in America) nationally announced precautions for all Episcopal churches to take and begin implementing. The in-person House of Bishops meeting in Houston was canceled and their first virtual meeting was held March 10-12, which Bishop Griselda was able to attend from Zoom-capable computers in Florida. She returned to Cuba on March 14 armed with pandemic protocols and life-saving information to share with the Church IN Cuba and its wider communities.

The past eight months of incredible challenges, lock-down, painful separations and isolation, and unimaginable suffering imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic have turned life upside down worldwide and have forced us all, including our various ministries, to take a “pandemic pause” to learn to live a “new normal.” Sourced in constant prayer during this down time, the Florida Cuba Companionship Ministry has been able to capture a few more of God’s Grace Notes

for a brighter relationship-building future in Christ. With the reunification of ECCuba into TEC as noted above, we in Florida are humbly grateful to TEC and other American Friends dioceses who have successfully assumed responsibility for many of Florida’s earlier established projects and support programs, e.g., boosting Cuban clergy salaries and pensions; procuring funding for busses and other transportation needs in Cuba; improving technology for communications in Cuba; renovation of the Cathedral dormitories and diocesan office areas; continuing construction of Camp Blankingship; installation and maintenance of more water purification systems at the Episcopal churches throughout the island nation, etc.

In concert with Bishop Griselda and the TEC reunification changes, Diocesan Chair Julie Sullivan and Liaison/Bishop’s Coordinator Marilyn Peterson have been reorganizing the Florida Cuba format and updating the Ministry’s companion church lists, volunteer members and priest lists. Most notably, given the current impossibilities to get meaningful funds to Cuba, a new clever way to GIFT all the Cuban priests with an easy and unique resource of value on a monthly basis delightfully showed up as a mission project idea. Launched in June 2020, the “Recharge a Priest’s Phone” program has become the Diocese of Florida’s new post-reunification diocesan project.

It works like this. Using a personal or church credit or debit card, a Phone Buddy is designated from each companion church to open an account with one of several American companies (Fonoma, Rebtel, Ding, etc.). For just $24 USD monthly per priest, the company will transmit up to $72 USD worth of cell phone services (text and phone minutes, costly internet data) directly into the Cuban priest’s cellphone number. The project is still in development, but Florida Phone Buddies have now been identified and committed enough to cover about 80% of Bishop Griselda’s designated List of Episcopal Cuban priests, deacons, and lay minister principals. The recipient priests are ecstatic with praise and gratitude for this new smartphone support, which is the ONLY way they have been able to communicate with their congregations and other clergy in Cuba , to organize their ministries, and to assure that the Word of God is alive and well in Cuba, especially during these difficult COVID times. And thanks be to God for this minor miracle of internet methodology to aid our brothers and sisters in isolated and distressed Cuba. Although Province II in the northeast will be administratively responsible for the Diocese of Cuba within the structure and hierarchy of TEC, the Diocese of Florida remains tethered to the Diocese of Cuba as its longstanding home Companion Diocese of 35 years.

The pandemic pause evidence is in. God is with us always: here on earth and in heaven AND in the ever-expanding virtual mezzanine of cyberspace. We continue to grow in service to Him. It’s going to be all right. Thanks be to God!

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