By Francisco Castro
I can’t remember exactly when I had my first encounter with religion. I can say with certainty however that the first religion I had contact with was the Catholic faith, through visits to the church in the town of Manati, Las Tunas, during one of my summer vacations.
When I returned to the city of Santiago I wanted to continue visiting the Catholic churches and to receive Catechism instruction. My mother was opposed to the idea, asking me if I really believed that Eve had been created from one of Adam’s ribs.
Seeing my astonished expression, my mother inculcated respect for religion in me with one of the most important and best learned lessons of my life: attending mass without really believing is a supreme act of hypocrisy as well as representing an enormous lack of respect for those who attend with all the faith in the world.
A little while later, I accompanied my grandmother to the Sanctuary of the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre, patron saint of Cuba. My grandmother was there to fulfill a vow. I was very impressed watching the way in which other people kept the promises they had made to the Virgin. Some were climbing the enormous staircase on their knees, others dragged themselves along the concrete walk, others, like my grandmother, deposited bouquets of flowers in the place set aside for offerings.
Following that visit, a dream began to recur during my nights: the appearance of the Virgin of Charity in an enormous cloud of smoke in the starry sky. I never mentioned the dream in my house, perhaps because it didn’t make a great impression on me. I never dreamt it again after that time.
Shortly before taking the University entrance exams, I had my next encounter with religion, this time with one of African origin. My grandmother, in her zeal to have everything go well for me, visited a neighbor who practiced the Santeria religion to have her do a cleaning ceremony for me. The Santeria priestess asked for a piece of yellow paper, then split it into three equal parts, and recited a series of litanies while passing it over my entire body. Afterwards she threw the pieces to the ground and burned them.
My scores on the tests couldn’t have been better.
Once in the city of Havana, one of the projects required for my major was to make a documentary film. For reasons that even I don’t totally understand, I chose the theme of profit in the Yoruba religion as the focus of my documentary.
That was my latest encounter with religion. I emerged with a very personal conclusion, in no way supported by any authoritative opinion: I am a son of the spirit guide Babalú Ayé, the equivalent of San Lazaro in the Catholic religion.
And I met my guardian angel through another Santeria priestess that my grandmother consulted at the time of my University entrance examinations. With that tone of mystery that they use, she told my grandmother that a protective figure surrounded me and took care of me, a very strong and wise spirit.
At that time, I had won a prize in the “Reading Marti.” national contest and had just returned to the city of Havana following a week of travel in which, among other activities, they awarded the prizes to all the winning children of the country.
You will already have imagined that the guardian angel who takes care of me, that spirit with so much power, is the spirit of Jose Marti.