No Flour and No Sacred Hosts in Cuba

Foto El Toque

By El Toque

HAVANA TIMES – The Havana religious order Madres Carmelitas Descalzas announced on November 2nd the paralysis in the production of sacred hosts for all the dioceses of Cuba due to a shortage of wheat flour.

The announcement on the official Facebook page of Vida Cristiana, a Sunday publication of the Society of Jesus, stated: “There are no HOSTS for sale. We have been working with the little flour that was left and what was in reserve has already come to an end.”

The Madres Carmelitas Descalzas are a cloistered religious order dedicated to monastic life. Part of their meager income is the result of the sale of sacred hosts, which they have been making for decades to be distributed in the country’s Catholic churches.

Unleavened bread circles are essential as part of the Catholic rite of the Eucharist. Cuban historian Leonardo Fernandez Otaño confirmed to El Toque that “without hosts there is no mass.”

In the religious context, the host is a thin, circular, dry wafer made with unleavened wheat flour that is given as a sign of offering during the Eucharist. For Catholics, during the consecration, the host becomes the body of Christ and the wine becomes his blood.

Adrian Martinez Cadiz, correspondent in Cuba for the US television network Eternal Word Television Network, echoed the nuns’ statement and said: “With this the Catholic Church would find itself in a bind, because without the hosts it is not possible to celebrate the Eucharist”.

Fernandez added that such a situation does not mean that masses would not be celebrated on Sunday November 6th, since each parish buys several packages of the product and stores them. “When the reserved hosts run out, there won’t be any to replace,” he added.

The Carmelitas Descalzas depend on the government allocation of flour to maintain their production. A source consulted by El Toque assured that there is a contract between the Government and the Catholic Church for the supply of wheat flour: “It is not free, as a result of the flour crisis, that contract has not been fulfilled, with which the Host production service has also been affected.”

“Normally, flour goes a long way. With a sack of flour the demands of the month are covered. Therefore, the need is around 12 bags per year. The number of hosts produced is not very easy to determine, but there are thousands,” the source said.

He also added that among the alternatives to solve the new problem would be for the Government to honor its contract with the Church. The other variants would be in the hands of civil society and believers: donations to accounts in the magnetic MLC currency to access flour from those dollar stores and importation of hosts by individual citizens, so that the Carmelites could sell them. “They really sell them very cheap and support themselves a little. They are women who live in almost extreme poverty because of their vows,” he said.

The host is a flat piece of unleavened bread, round and very thin, that the Catholic priest consecrates during mass and gives to the faithful in communion.

Another crisis, the flour shortage

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has affected the world economy. Ukraine is one of the largest cereal producers in the world and its wheat production represents 10% of the world market for the product.

The Cuban government is a well-known ally of the Kremlin, but the crisis generated by the war reached the Caribbean to increase shortages and unrest. Thus, the price of a ship of wheat at the end of October 2022 ranged between 14 and 16 million dollars. Cuba needs to import between three and four monthly shipments to meet national demand, Yanet Lomba Estupiñan, technical director of the Cuban Milling Company, told Cubadebate. But due to lack of funds, only between one and two ships are received per month.

The flour shortage in Cuba has been in the headlines of the official and independent press for months. It is not something new. On October 26, 2022, the government’s Cubadebate admitted in a report that the supply of flour was “critical.” Lomba Estupiñán argued that this is because “at the moment there is no stable financing for the purchase of wheat.”

In addition, the grain delivered to the Cuban mills does not have the required parameters: “it has very poor quality, a lot of straw and impurities,” said Yuneisi Tamayo Lamoru, technical head of the “Jose Antonio Echeverría” Cereals state company.

The text argues that there are several causes for the increase in the price of wheat on the global market, among them increased freight costs. It further adds that, in the case of Cuba, the United States embargo is added as an aggravating circumstance.

In August 2022, a rumor spread in Havana that there was no flour and that the production of pizzas, cookies and non-rationed bread would be affected. In the middle of the month, at the meeting of the Temporary Work Group of the capital, the coordinator of the provincial government Julio Martínez Roque reported that only “the family rations, the prison population, children without family protection, homes for the elderly, psychiatric hospitals and that of the Cuban Chain of Bakeries” would get flour.

Days later, the Ministry of Domestic Trade confirmed the shortage by saying: “the difficulties for importing wheat have worsened, which has affected the availability of this product.”

To this day, the reality is that the scarcity of wheat, quality problems in what they do import, and other factors derived from poor economic management by the Government affect whether or not Cubans can put bread in their mouths, when this food constitutes many cases the daily food of many. The shortage now also affects Catholic masses in the country.

Read more from Cuba here on Havana TImes



3 thoughts on “No Flour and No Sacred Hosts in Cuba

  • For Catholics in Cuba who receive holy communion, particularly priests who administer the holy host, the lack of flour must be disconcerting and obviously problematic. But, maybe not.

    Sandra writes: “Do what we Protestants do, use a piece of bread, a cracker, remember, the Lord knows what is happening , this is not a sin in His eyes if you cannot find make wafers.” She has a point. Unfortunately, as Noel clearly points out, Cuba, certainly in the public sphere of the economy, has no flour for bread, crackers, and in this specific case: communion hosts.

    It could be worse.

    There is a book written by Walter Ciszek, SJ. It is a classic memoir by American-born Jesuit priest Walter Ciszek, who survived fifteen years of imprisonment in the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War. It details his sufferings at the hands of the communist Russian government. He tried to disguise his identity of being a priest so he said Mass, distributed communion, heard confessions, in secret. If found out he would have been shot. He spent many years in freezing, snowy, Siberia in a Gulag Archipelago serving his long sentence in the mines and secretly saying Mass at his peril.

    Here is a religious snippet of one of Father Walter’s ordeals. “Right under the commandant’s nose, as it were, I said the whole Oriental-rite Mass every evening, with rare exceptions. I had a little chalice, and paten which one of the prisoners made for me out of nickel; the wine again was raisin wine, and the bread was baked especially by some Latvian Catholics who worked in the camp kitchen.” (Ciszek, Walter J. SJ with Flaherty, Daniel L. SJ, With God in Russia, 1964).

    To Sandra’s point, what she is saying is that the Cuban Catholic church in Cuba needs to improvise like others have done. So the Church has no hosts. Clearly, hosts made out of wheat flour are not possible currently. However, how about cassava? Cassava flour is a good substitute for wheat flour in a variety of recipes. Cassava flour comes from the root vegetable cassava. Cassava can grow abundantly in tropical climates like Cuba. In Cuba, bakers make bread from cassava flour. So, in essence there is a solution.

    Cuban historian Leonardo Fernandez Otaño confirmed to El Toque that “without hosts there is no mass.” Moreover, Adrian Martinez Cadiz, correspondent in Cuba for the US television network Eternal Word Television Network said: “With this the Catholic Church would find itself in a bind, because without the hosts it is not possible to celebrate the Eucharist”. This is a bit dramatic to say the least.

    Cubans are well known and respected for their intelligent ingenuity. Whatever crisis erupts in their country, they adapt and carry on. This lack of hosts should not be such a deterrent as to deny Cuban Catholics the right to receive holy communion.

    If Cubans in Cuba despite the lack of critical resources can produce a viable vaccine for COVID 19, can they not take cassava flour and make communion wafers? Absolutely, these hosts will not be the same as hosts produced from wheat flour; however Cuban Catholics administered cassava communion will not be denied communion. Isn’t that the role of the Church, cardinals, bishops, priests under any circumstances?

    And, more importantly, as Sandra says: “. . .the Lord knows what is happening , this is not a sin in His eyes if you cannot find make wafers.” At the Last Supper, did Jesus use wheat wafers?

  • there is no flour, either for hosts, crackers or bread, please read the article

  • Do what we Protestants do, use a piece of bread, a cracker, remember, the Lord knows what is happening , this is not a sin in His eyes if you cannot find make wafers.. We use grape juice not wine.. also in our communion so those with a fondness for ETOH may not be tempted.
    We have separate cups to avoid spreading germs.
    Catholicism needs to bend a little from their rigid protocols.. Read the OT and NT, .. concessions were made throughout in days of sacrifices and when Jesus came…. Because it is an imperfect world but our Lord has perfect grace.

Comments are closed.