- Title: POPE-CUBA/SANTERIA As pope visits, Afro-Cuban religion hopes for recognition
- Date: 15th September 2015
- Summary: (SOUNDBITE) (Spanish) SANTERA, A PRACTITIONER FROM THE SANTERIA (WAY OF THE SAINTS) AFRO-CARIBBEAN RELIGION BASED ON YORUBA BELIEFS AND TRADITIONS, NIURKA MOLA, SAYING: "We are going to the Mass given by the Pope because previously, I reiterate, we started following the Church, the religious field, the ecclesiastical part, with the baptism. That is why we are led from there to also represent ourselves, also through the Pope." HAVANA, CUBA (RECENT - 2015) (REUTERS) CUBAN FAITHFUL HONOURING A POPULAR CATHOLIC SAINT ON THEIR FEAST DAY: OUR VIRGIN OF REGLA, DURING PROCESSION WOMAN HOLDING CARDS NEXT TO DOLL WOMAN READING FORTUNE CARDS, OUTSIDE TEMPLE OF OUR LADY OF REGLA
- Embargoed: 30th September 2015 13:00
- Location: Cuba
- Country: Cuba
- Topics: General
- Reuters ID: LVAA6IJB2YO406KMG8CSWJREV6QV
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: Cubans who follow the Santeria tradition, which has its roots in the Yoruba religion imported to Cuba from West Africa by slaves, are hopeful that Pope Francis will accept their beliefs when he visits the Caribbean island on Sept. 19-22.
Many Santeria practitioners, who are also Roman Catholic and go to church, are delighted with Pope Francis' visit, such as Lourdes Nusa.
"Well, this is a blessing. Previously two Popes visited but this one comes, bringing a lot of harmony, a lot of peace. He comes truly interested in spreading peace, so that all people get along well together, the church and all the people," Nusa said.
Santeria scenes appear in parts of Havana recently. Near the water, men, women and children underwent cleansing rituals at the hands of santeros.
Meanwhile, in a cramped smoke-filled living room of a downtown Havana walk-up, Santeria faithful danced to the beat of a drum, calling on the spirits of ancestors to give them guidance.
About 60 percent of Cuba's 11 million people are baptized Catholic, the Church says, but experts say at least an equal number practice Santeria or another form of Afro-Cuban religion.
Santeria combines elements of Catholicism with the Yoruba religion and many Cubans identify with both traditions and their ceremonies.
The Church has been tolerant of Santeria but remains wary. The Vatican does not recognize Santeria as a religion and Pope Francis has no events scheduled with practitioners.
Santero, Humberto Cuevas, said the pontiff should not be forced to support the role of Santeria in Cubans' spiritual lives but he should at least accept it.
"For the Pope, I pray that God protects him, looks after him, gives him good health, it's good that as he supports the Roman Catholic Church, he should not be forced to support the Yoruba faith but he could at least accept us," said Cuevas.
Though monotheistic, the Yoruba religion that bore Santeria shares no common ancestry with Christianity, experts say. Catholic priests worry that some of those who attend Mass in Cuba do not accept Jesus or recognize the Virgin Mary, which are tenets of the Catholic Church.
Cuban political analyst, Aurelio Alonso, said Pope Francis will have to be tolerant. Alonso referred to a book Pope Francis wrote in the late 90s, when he was Reverend Jorge Mario Bergoglio called "Dialogues Between John Paul II and Fidel Castro". In the book, Alonso said Bergoglio characterized Afro-Christian religions in Cuba as "cults, not religions."
"Now, nevertheless he will have, in the Plaza of the Revolution, not only Catholics, Catholics, Catholics Catholics, but he will have those who are both Santeros and Catholics and feel both things at the same time and feel no differences because it they didn't have that, Catholicism would have no foundation and he will also have the Santeros, who are more Santeros, than Catholics," Alonso went onto say.
Home ceremonies pick up where church worship leaves off. But while Santeria followers easily venerate both the orisha and the saint they see before them, Cuba's clergy perceive this as a confusion of the two religions.
Nevertheless, fifty-year-old Niurka Mola, a "godmother" in Cuba's Santeria tradition, proudly said she had started to adopt Roman Catholic practises.
"We are going to the Mass given by the Pope because previously, I reiterate, we started following the Church, the religious field, the ecclesiastical part, with the baptism. That is why we are led from there to also represent ourselves, also through the Pope," said Mola, a teacher at a daycare centre in Havana.
Against the odds, Santeria devotees hope Pope Francis might change the Church's outlook, given the changes the first Latin American pontiff has introduced at the Vatican since he assumed the office in 2013.
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