Presbyterians Today

SEP-OCT 2016

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COURTESY OF BARBARA D'ANDREA 'The only thing that makes sense' Jose Luis Casal, executive presby- ter of Tres Rios Presbytery in West Texas, is a man with a foot in both worlds. He was born in Cuba and served as a pastor there until 1988. That experience gives him a unique perspective, and he has earned the respect of Cubans, Cuban Americans, and other Americans. He did not leave Cuba for the United States, but was authorized by the government to minister in Ecuador. He came to the United States years later to work at building a relationship between presbyteries in Chicago and Havana. He agrees that there are still some old feelings about those who left Cuba to move to the US and "abandoned" the church. Casal says he believes this feeling is much less prevalent among the younger generation. "More important than anything else, we have to forget the past and move forward. We have to let go of old feelings," he says. "The only thing that makes sense is to work together toward the future." And he is doing just that. He said the healing must be accomplished Cuban-to-Cuban. So he, with other Cubans from the US and the island, is putting together a delegation of Presbyterians from different parts of the United States to meet with a delegation of Cuban pastors in order to foster a dialogue of understanding and reconciliation. In addition to Casal's work on rec- onciliation, David Cortes-Fuentes and Josey Saez-Acevedo are seeking to be part of the healing process. Last fall, they became the first Presbyterian mission co-workers sent to live and work in Cuba since the 1959 revolu- tion. Cortes-Fuentes is teaching New Testament and Greek at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Matanzas, and Saez-Acevedo assists several congregations with their educational ministries with children and youth. Cortes-Fuentes says the division between those who left and those who have stayed has created both a challenge and an opportunity for the church. Because many of those who left Cuba were younger, service ministry to older adults is now a vital part of the Cuban church. At the seminary level, service ministries, or diaconal ministries, are integrated into all aspects of ministry training and even everyday life. It's a relational form of ministry that is considered vital. The emphasis on relationships is now transcending political borders. Opportunities for new relationships Cubans have heard reconciliation talked about from the pulpit and in private conversations. Pastors have talked about the division and the need for healing. They have articu- lated the pain that many Cubans experienced when some family members chose to stay while others decided to go. "I've heard pastors say we have to be ready to welcome our brothers and sisters when they come back now that travel is easier," Cortes-Fuentes says. "The message is that we have to have our hearts in the right place if people want to come back." "People have come to me and told me they are trying to reach out to their family in the States," adds Saez-Acevedo. "They want to experi- ence reconciliation before it's too late, before they die or lose their loved ones." The reconciliation process is only beginning, but the political changes are opening doors for other changes. "When I talk to the pastors and the leaders of the church, they are open to healing on both ends," Saez- Acevedo says. "They know it will take time, but they are hopeful." 1902 Cuba becomes a pro- tectorate of the United States, and Guantánamo becomes a US naval base. 1904 The Presbytery of Havana is organized, with five pastors and seven congregations as part of the Synod of New Jersey. 1946 The Evangelical Theological Seminary, founded by Presbyterian, Methodist, and Episcopal churches, opens in Matanzas. (The seminary is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year.) 1959 Fidel Castro assumes leadership. Following the break- down of diplomatic relations, the imposition of a US embargo (1960), and the unsuccessful Bay of Pigs invasion (1961), the Cuban government confiscates the schools and the clinics of the churches. The Presbytery of Cuba suffers from bitter internal division. More than half the min- isters and members leave Cuba. 1967 The Presbyterian- Reformed Church in Cuba is formed and applies for member- ship in the World Council of Churches. Laura Vega of the Güines Presbyterian Church greets a group of Americans as they walk by.

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