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More On The Orthodox Church Trip To Cuba
Thursday, April 21, 2005   By: Juan Paxety

Staying in a five star hotel

I wrote earlier about a trip the Orthodox Church in the U.S. plans to take to Cuba. The visitors will stay in a five-star hotel, eat well, and visit Cuban flea markets.  The Church's site promotes the trip as fun in the sun on an island paradise. Val's take is here.  A number of folks wrote the church asking just what it thought it was doing, and Carmen got a reply from Fr. Ritsi:

Dear Carmen,
Thank you for taking time to express your feelings concerning the OCMC Cuba trip.
 
I understand the deep emotions over the situation with Cuba that you have expressed. I would not attempt to undervalue your feelings in any way. I am personally aware of the situation also, as my son's Godfather left Cuba as a teenager with his family, loosing everything they had. In addition, as a person who served with my family for 6 years in a post communist country in harsh conditions, striving to bring reconciliation and revival of Christianity in the wake of the harshest oppression we have seen over the past 100 years, I see every opportunity possible to witness in countries that are or have been oppressed as invaluable. I would like to offer two comments that might help to bring further light to the trip. They are that (1) this trip to Cuba is unique and different from the Mission Center's normal short-term mission trips and (2) does have an important religious agenda.
 
 
Our standard short-term mission trips, which are advertised on our website, are considered ministry trips - where people will either do catechism, health care projects, or build churches, schools and clinics. In addition to the work they accomplish, they are a way to bring connection and show care from our church bodies here in the United States to our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world as well as educating our people in the United States on the plight and situation of those in the countries they visit.
 
The trip to Cuba, on the other hand, is being done solely as a church-to-church educational visit. Unfortunately, the advertising of this trip glossed over the main and substantial religious dimension.The program will involve daily visitations and discussions with persons from the Cuban religious communities of faith (Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant), though we will especially focus on the life and development of the Orthodox community, which is now growing. While the trip is not providing a concrete form of ministry (like building a church), as our usual mission trips, it will provide a people-to-people connection and bring encouragement to the Cubans who are struggling to develop and grow in their Orthodox faith. It will equally strengthen and nurture those from here who will now be exposed to some of what you referred to in your email and to understand this personally, rather than simply through media in addition to providing exposure to Orthodox mission work around the world.
 
 
I do pray you can see through to these positive dimensions of this trip, and hope you would concur with us that the value of interaction with the people in the churches of Cuba and the feeling of solidarity and Christian brotherhood this creates far outweighs any negative results.
 
Yours in Christ,
 
Fr. Martin Ritsi
 
I'm writing Father Ritsi with this question - How does staying in a five-star hotel, eating five-star hotel food, and visiting Cuban flea markets for tourists "provide a people-to-people connection and bring encouragement to the Cubans who are struggling... ?"
 
It would seem to me that staying in a five star hotel, eating five star hotel food, and hobnobbing with the Cuban handlers, fidel's supporters, and maybe a few "approved" church members adds cash to fidel's pocket, encouragement to the folks who support the regime, and gives only discouragement to the starving millions on the island. Will you have the courage to walk out onto the streets of Havana without your security detail, and minister to the spiritual needs of the ordinary Cubans? I'm awaiting an answer.

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