A number of factors probably contribute to Cuban Christians’ fervent commitment to ecumenism.
There is the relative isolation of the island nation due to geo-politics fueled by the 60-year-old U.S. embargo that makes Cuban Christians hunger for ecumenical contact with other churches around the world.
There is the sense among all of Cuba’s churches — even the dominant Roman Catholic Church — that Christians are a cultural and societal minority in this country and thus must stick together.
And there is the deeply rooted commitment to Christian unity that has always been theologically and ecclesiologically central to the Christian churches’ self-understanding.
All of these factors and others coalesced Saturday evening (Jan. 25) as nearly 300 believers of all stripes gathered in the Iglesia Catolica Romana Nuestra Senora Del Carmen here for an ecumenical celebration marking the conclusion of the annual “Week of Prayer for Christian Unity” — a global Christian observance sponsored by the World Council of Churches that is eagerly embraced by Cuba’s churches.
“God is calling us to live in unity in Jesus Christ,” said host pastor Fr. Roberto Ortiz, addressing a congregation of Catholics, Presbyterians, Anglicans, Baptists, Evangelicals and Pentecostals (and probably a few others as well).
“In the midst of globalization and its impacts on the poor and economic injustice in all countries, it is imperative that God´s people everywhere live in unity,” he said.
Preaching on the Week of Prayer theme — 1 Corinthians 1:13 (Is Christ divided?) — the Rev. Ary Fernandez, pastor of Central Presbyterian Church here, said, “Diversity was not a problem for Paul. On the contrary, diversity is a creation of the Holy Spirit.”
The church, in and because of its diversity, Fernandez said, “is full of the gifts of God, and that’s good. We are different but we have all the gifts of God among us and we are never without the love and grace of God as we exercise those gifts for Jesus Christ.”
Unity does not mean uniformity, Fernandez continued. “If any church claims to have the only truth, that is proof that it doesn’t. The prayer of Christ is that we all will be one and Paul is telling us in Corinthians to overcome our divisions.”
Unity makes every church stronger, Fernandez insisted. “What unites us is always stronger than what divides us,” he said. “Christ unites us in himself. We must not divide. Christ is not divided. The church is not divided.”
The focus of this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is Canada, particularly its indigenous population. In a moving ritual reflecting that Christian tradition, worshipers led by a young woman stood and in unison turned and faced six directions, praying:
- to the North “from which we receive the cold”
- to the South “from which we receive the heat”
- to the West “from which we receive the rain”
- to the East “from which we welcome the sun”
- up to heaven “from which we receive light and dark”
down to the earth “from which we receive, life, death and resurrection.”