St. Lazarus Day in Cuba
By Pedro Pablo Morejon
HAVANA TIMES – I remember when I was little that my beloved grandmother, a great follower of St. Lazarus, used to take me to the vigils organized by the Martinez family, a rural family that is friends with my family, who used to celebrate this holy festival and pray for a promise.
As a child, it was always a show. I could eat candy and run about freely with the other kids. Simple fun, although statues of the saint used to scare me.
Over the years, this rejection grew until it turned into something so grotesque that I’ve never been able to understand how some people worship something that suggests hardship, death toll and deception.
Every year, there are tens of thousands of people who travel from the most remote places in the country to the Rincon sanctuary on the outskirts of Havana to pay homage to this saint. All kinds of promises are made. Many people bleed at the knees, dragging themselves across the ground or carrying heavy crosses for kilometers and kilometers to keep their word to a protector who apparently saved a loved one or granted an important wish.
Lots of people only worship the Orisha from their Yoruba religion; however, Catholic priests from the Rincon sanctuary, aren’t shocked by what would be considered idolatry from a Christian perspective. They know that nobody there is going to worship their saint, but on this day they imitate their enemies of faith, demonstrating an exemplary ecumenism.
I was woken up by a noise on Saturday December 17th, at 1 AM. I came to my senses and figured out that it was coming from a house that is quite a ways away. The noise was an underground music genre called “Reparto”, the kind that human beings who still have a little good taste find torture, both to the ears and soul.
I first wondered why there was such a racket that I could hear it clearly from over a block away until I gradually realized that it was December 17th already, which is the day that half the country pays homage to St. Lazarus, Jesus’ friend according to the Bible, who was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church, although the Holy Scriptures tell us about the beggar Lazarus, full of blisters that dogs would lick, whom was granted paradise by God because of his devotion; or to Babalu Aye, the orisha of leprosy, smallpox, STDs and other plagues and poverty according to Cuban Santeria.
This idol is a kind of divine hybrid here in Cuba, the result of religious syncretism that Cubans have been practicing and who wait for the day from the night of the 16th.
I am a liberal, I respect and defend individual freedoms, including freedom of religion, but I can’t be blind to the fact that there is a stark correlation between poverty and religion. Different studies have verified over and over again that the most religious countries tend to be the poorest and vice-versa.
The following morning, an acquaintance told me he felt drained, that he hadn’t slept all night. I then realized that he was wearing straw trousers and I understood why he was up all night.
“I didn’t know you were “into that”,” somebody told him.
“Well yes, I believe in St. Lazarus and “Fifo” (Fidel Castro).
I moved away and, as I was about to fall into one of the potholes in the sidewalk, I thought that for good reason this country is sinking more and more into poverty.