Our Third Trip to Cuba

St. Luke’s has now organized three trips to Cuba. The first took place in 2016 when a delegation of 14 church members visited several Episcopal parishes in Cuba as well as the cathedral in Havana. The second, in 2017, established a companion parish relationship with the Episcopal Parish in Santa Cruz Del Norte on the Atlantic Ocean, about an hour east of Havana. The third, which took place this past November, focused on building on our relationship with Santa Cruz del Norte and helping to install a clean water purification system in the church courtyard to be used by the parish and the entire community. Here is a summary of our most recent visit to give you an idea of what these trips entail.

Water in Cuba is often not safe to drink so Cubans must either use bottled water (relatively expensive) or risk their health by drinking water out of the tap.  Our mission was to set up a Viqua UV water filtration system at Santa Cruz del Norte which we brought with us on our direct three-hour flight from JFK to Havana. The St. Luke’s work group included Chip and Stuart Weismiller, Al Briganti , and Rusty and Susan Martin. Susan is fluent in Spanish. Joining us was Michael Pollock, a Cooper Union-trained mechanical engineer and a member of Christ Church, Bronxville, who has made it his personal mission to install water filtrations systems at all of the Episcopal churches in Cuba.

Before our arrival, a local team of electricians and plumbers hired by the Diocese of Cuba had laid pipes connecting the city water system on one side of the church in Santa Cruz Del Norte to an elevated cistern on the other. Under Michael’s supervision, we connected the water cistern to the Viqua UV water filtration system which we had installed in a small shelter. The water from the city and the cistern flows by gravity into the system, which includes a series of filters and an ultra violet light that kills bacteria. The clean water then flows into two faucets facing the court yard from which people can draw clean water.  When finished, the gratefulness of the Santa Cruz del Norte congregation was palpable. The total cost, including equipment, plumbing, and labor was only $5,000 paid by donations from parishioners and Outreach funds from Saint Luke’s.

Installation of the water system is one of several projects the Cuba Team at St. Luke’s has offered to take on. For our visits to Santa Cruz del Norte, St. Luke’s members often bring much needed over-the- counter medicine, crafts, and other supplies. We also equipped the parish with baseball gear, which they used to form a team called Tiburones” (The Sharks), and which has been a great way to attract young people to the church.  Father Frank Fernandez, the Rector, tells us they’re pretty good.

 Looking to the future, the Cuba Team now hopes to raise the money needed to replace or rebuild the church’s roof and refurbish the building, which has been severely damaged by age and hurricanes.  

What did our group get out of this visit to Cuba? The answer is simple: Huge joy knowing that we are helping our companion parish and its congregation rebuild itself after 60 years under Communism.  We also had fun in Cuba. While we were working at Santa Cruz del Norte we stayed at Villa Lomo, a hotel a few miles away for only $30 per person per night. More importantly, we had access to a beautiful white sand resort beach and enjoyed temperatures in the mid to high 80s.  We ate a lobster dinner in a crow’s nest outdoors restaurant with magnificent views of the Atlantic.  When we returned to Havana before our flight home, we had gorgeous accommodations in a B&B just off the Malecon sea walk in the Vedado section of Havana, which also cost $30 per person per night! We visited various sites and just enjoyed wandering around Old Havana. Before one of our dinners, we shared frozen daiquiris at the Floridita, Ernest Hemmingway’s favorite watering hole. 

As a next step, we are organizing two return trips, one this Spring and one in November, to introduce more St. Luke’s parish members to the Episcopal Church in Cuba. On these trips we will visit our companion parish in Santa Cruz del Norte, go to a beach nearby, see the sites in Havana (including the Cathedral), and enjoy the warm weather. We will stay in well-appointed B&Bs and hotels and dine at fine restaurants, arrangements made by the Cuba Team.  A St. Luke’s member who speaks Spanish and knows Cuba will guide the group.

Details will be available at the Pathways meeting on February 10.

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