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At Exiles' Shrine to Cuba's Patroness Virgin, Reflecting on Castro's Death


The centerpiece of the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity - the Ermita, built with donations from thousands of Cuban exiles in honor of the island's Patroness, the Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre or "Cachita"- is a floor-to-ceiling mural depicting centuries of Cuban history.  There are thinkers and freedom fighters, like Félix Varela and José Martí, and Christopher Columbus gazing out over an indigenous community. 

But as worshippers returned to the shrine Sunday, many leaving sunflowers by the altar in honor of relatives who died in exile, it was Fidel Castro who, once again, cast a shadow outside.

When you get to the airport, they know everything about your life, from your hair to your feet.

After the 11 a.m. Mass, one woman declined to give her name, fearing anything she said could follow her home to Cuba on her next visit: “When you get to the airport, they know everything about your life, from your hair to your feet,” she said.

Others, like Miriam Novo, were jubilant.  “Thank you Lord, thank you Lord! The tyrant is gone. I hope that, without him, everything will get better.”

Jorgetsy Garabán, a member of the congregation who hails from Venezuela, said Castro’s death made her think instantly of Hugo Chávez. “When Chávez died, we thought it was going to bring an end to the revolution,” she said, “that things were going to change.”

“Looking back, we realize that this corrupt system wouldn’t let things change because some people benefit from it. I’ve spoken with Cubans who feel the same way,” said Garabán.

Congregants were split between echoing the refrain of many Cuban American politicians—that Castro’s death is unlikely to change Cuba’s political system—and the powerful symbolism of his passing. “It’s the end of an era,” Garabán said—one that gives some Venezuelans reasons to hope also.

Credit Katie Lepri / WLRN
"I'm the other half of Cubans not out celebrating:" Gorki Carrillo, whose family fled the Castro regime in 1960, calls for more "reflection" on the part of the Cuban exile community, and says trade "obligating Cuba to deal with the world" is the best way to foster political change.

  Gorki Carrillo, who fled Cuba with his parents in 1960, shortly after Castro came to power, said, “I’m the other half of Cubans not out celebrating,” referring to the spontaneous celebrations in Little Havana, Hialeah and the Saguësera (areas in Miami's  southwest)  as news of Castro’s death reached Miami. “I know the history too well.”

Carrillo attends Mass at La Ermita each Sunday, and he said Castro’s death had made him pray for “more reflection, for enlightenment."

“There’s just too much hatred, too much anger right now, and that’s what I pray for: for us to reflect and think and do the Christian thing, not just talk,” said  Carrillo. 

Carrillo said U.S. dogma on Cuba is part of why the Castros have held onto power so long, and that the Christian thing now is to open America’s economic doors to the country, regardless of who’s in power. “You expose it to the world. You expose it and you obligate it to deal with the world: to create courts, to create departments of finance. And then Cuba will have to change.”