Here's a complete, detailed overview of the Ground Breaking at Camp Blankingship.
Wednesday, April 11, 2018 was the culmination of over 60 years of pursuing a dream. A dream of a camp in the middle of Cuba that could welcome Cubans from around the country, as well as people from around the globe, to a Center of spiritual, educational, agricultural and sustainable pursuits. A dream first conceived by Bishop Hugo Blankingship, the last American Bishop of Cuban who purchased 15 acres of land outside of Santa Clara in the 1950s, before the Cuban revolution.
Since Bishop Griselda Delgado del Carpio’s appointment as Episcopal Bishop of Cuba in 2010, many years and tremendous effort had been put into reclaiming the land from the Cuban government, clearing the garbage and brush from the land, planting a living fence, planting crops on 7 acres of the land, and securing architectural plans and building permits for this religious center. Early financial support came from the Diocese of Florida, various Florida parishes, and a $50,000 grant from the UTO (United Thank Offering).
And now, thanks to the generous funding provided by Trinity Wall Street, NY and St. Luke’s Parish in Darien CT, Phase One of Camp Blankingship (A Chapel that will also serve as a multi-purpose room, and two dormitories) is becoming a reality.
The week began with its own little miracle. The only large shade tree on the building site had not a single leaf as it has been so dry. Rev. Gerardo Lojildes was concerned about where workers and guests would take refuge from the noonday heat on Ground Breaking day. But on the Sunday evening before, a light rain shower fell and on Monday morning, the tree was full of leaves, providing a wonderful canopy of shade.
Bishop Griselda and we, her US visitors for the celebration, headed out from Havana on Tuesday afternoon. While we took turns dozing during the 3-hour car ride, Bishop Griselda was busy with her yellow legal pad, bible and prayer book, crafting her remarks for the Day Break service planned to start our celebration.
On Wednesday morning, Bishop Griselda and guests arrived at the camp before sunrise. She wanted to be the first person there to welcome the workers and church members who would participate in the day. As the sun came up, buses and vans arrived. A bus from Havana arrived with tables, chairs and food, parishioners from Havana, Itabo and Cuatro Esquinas. A bus/truck and van arrived with parishioners from Zorillo, Los Arabos and others. A woman from Florencia hitch-hiked over four hours to attend the Ground Breaking of Camp Blankingship.
All in all, we were a group of about 60, who gathered around the newly planted wooden cross at the entrance to the camp. A small group of musicians with guitar, bongo drums and shaker, played “hymns” that had all of our feet moving and arms raising. Bishop Griselda delivered moving remarks and consecrated the ground, blessed the workers, the guests and the work to be done. It was a joyous and blessed start to the day.
Four large holes had been prepared for the first of 14 footings to be poured for the Capilla (chapel). We would be pouring two of those footings.
The team began with four brand new wheel barrows, a pile of gravel, a pile of sand, and a bigger pile of rock. Bags of concrete were being delivered from the storage container by horse and cart. The foreman of the project, Hosmane, took his position in the first hole. The team began mixing the concrete in wheelbarrows: 1 bucket of water; 1 bucket of sand; 1 bucket of gravel; 1 bucket of cement; and 3 buckets of rock!
This would be mixed by hand and then wheeled to the hole for the footing. Hosmane stood in the hole, and like Lucy stomping grapes in the famous TV episode, moved the concrete into place with his boots. Wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of concrete was poured into the hole. Hosmane measured the depth after every few wheelbarrows full. When the concrete had reached the proper depth, about half way up the hole, we moved on to the next hole to allow the first to set adequately for the next stage in the process.
Once the concrete in first hole had set for about 45 minutes, the rebar was placed in position. The base of the rebar grid had been welded together, but the rebar arms that formed the base of the columns were wired onto the grid base by hand. Once the rebar structure was placed in the hole, we again began filling with concrete. In all, each hole took about 45 wheelbarrows of concrete to fill, each mixed by hand.
Throughout the morning, the women sat under the beautiful shade tree. Men took breaks under the shade and at 10am, the Bishop called everyone for Merienda (coffee break). Dark sweet coffee and ham and cheese sandwiches were consumed by all. And then back to work.
The two footings were completed by about 2pm. Throughout the morning, the cooking team that had been preparing the sandwiches for merienda, was also grilling up pork for our midday meal. We enjoyed the BBQ lunch under the shade of a tin roofed shed, that the workers had transformed into a make-shift chapel with a wooden cross and roughly hewn wooden benches. Out came the guitars and bongo drums to celebrate the day. Hymns and humorous songs were sung, capped off by a version of Guantanamera with lyrics written for the occasion.
With Phase One clearly underway, the building permits are secure. It is estimated that the chapel and two dormitories will take 16-18 months to complete.
What a fantastic celebration, and testament to the wonderful work being done by Bishop Griselda and her team to continue growing the Episcopal Church in Cuba.