14ymedio, Bertha K. Guillén, Candelaria, 18 January 2019 — This Saturday is the day that Jorge has waited for months. Tomorrow he leaves for Panama along with 470 other Cuban Catholics to attend along with Pope Francis the triennial meeting of the World Youth Day (WYD).
It is the island’s largest delegation in the history of the event, which takes place between January 22 and 27, and for the first time, Cuban pilgrims are assuming their own transportation and lodging expenses. In the past, the parishes of the Island covered those expenses and that is why the Cuban delegations were small.
Jorge sold an electronic tablet and some household goods to gather the $640 that the trip costs. He has also received help from his parents, who make their living renting a house to tourists. With this amount, the youth can buy a packet of accommodation, food and insurance (at a cost of $250), while the other $390 will defray the cost of the plane ticket.
“I was a minor when the Pope visited Brazil in 2013 and I could not travel at that time, in addition there weren’t any meetings in the parishes so that those interested could pay for the trip,” Jorge tells 14ymedio.
The interest expressed by young people to attend the World Youth Day was so wide, according to parishioners from several parishes of Artemisa and Pinar del Río, that the ecclesiastical authorities decided to make a call for self-financing of the trip to all those who would like to participate.
The consular paperwork was handled through the diocesan board of Pastoral Youth. “That helped a lot because the Panamanian embassy in Havana is very complicated, the line is long and the resellers (Cubans who travel to other countries to buy goods and then resell them back in Cuba) offer more than 300 CUC (Cuban convertible pesos, roughly $300 US) for a place in the line in the informal market,” says Ismael, another pilgrim who has joined the trip.
Ismael’s parents look forward to the presence of their son in Panama. Growing up under the strict atheism of the 70s in Cuba, both professionals began to show their religious faith in public when, in 1991, the Communist Party allowed membership to believers. “They dreamed of something that now I can finally do,” says the son.
Many of those who travel to Panama this Saturday are children of a generation “that could not be baptized or married by the Church,” says Ismael. “Those people had to hide the crucifix and religious images and that is why now they have encouraged and supported the young people so they do not let their religion be taken away and carry it with pride”.
To join the delegation it was necessary to fulfill the requirements of the parish, such as having an active and sacramental life and providing a letter of approval from the parish priest or another religious figure of the community.
In all the parishes of the country, young people were advised to count on having additional funds for any unforeseen event. More than 60% of those interested in the trip arranged for private funds or received help from the religious community and from parishioners who collected money so they could fulfill their dream.
“Paying for our tickets has been a challenge, in which our priest have had the principal role. Most of us are students, so we have appealed to the generosity of priests, nuns and people of good will who live outside of Cuba.” explained to this newspaper a young man from Candelaria, in the province of Artemisa.
The Candelarian has many expectations for World Youth Day, an event founded in 1985 by Pope John Paul II that has become the biggest celebration of young Catholics. “It is also a place to compare our realities, to learn other ways of living the faith and above all to fill ourselves with hope,” he says.
In Panama, they will participate in meetings with Pope Francis. “Since last October we have had formative meetings in the parishes to be in tune with the world’s youth,” explains Mónica Rodríguez, a young woman from Santiago. “It is a great responsibility to represent Cubans who are unable to go on the journey and convey the true reality of our country.”
In Cuba there will also be a digital broadcast via Facebook. “We are enabling sites in order to experience the most important moments of the journey via the Internet”, explains David Yanes. “It is the first time that we are directly connected and we are going to take advantage of it”.
Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria
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