Oblates Celebrate 25 Years in Cuba
By Mike Viola
In 1998, six Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate were allowed to enter Cuba after a historic visit by Pope John Paul II. For decades, the Communist government had forbidden the practice of Catholicism. The Oblates began restoring churches and reintroducing residents to the Catholic faith.
Today, five Oblates minister in Cuba, including one American, Fr. Roger Halle, OMI. While there are still many restrictions placed on their work by the government, these Oblates have been able to make progress restoring Christianity to the island.
Father Tomasz Szafranski, OMI, has been ministering in Cuba for a year. Here he writes about his Oblate journey and the present work of the Oblates in Cuba.
“I am Tomas, a Missionary Oblate of Mary Immaculate. I come from Krakow, Poland, and I am currently living my missionary service in Cuba. But how did I get to Cuba? Here’s my story…
I remember graduating from high school and looking for my way in this world. On the one hand, I really liked being in school with a focus on geology. But on the other hand, I felt more and more strongly Jesus’ invitation to follow Him on the priestly and missionary path.
As I examined my life, more questions arose: Where? What? Eventually it became clear to me that I wanted to be a missionary. So, I started writing to various religious families that had the word “missionaries” in their name, believing that way I would find answers to my questions. The first to respond were the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, so now I am an Oblate.
While studying in the seminary, I believed that missions were only in Africa. But gradually, growing and deepening my vocation, I became interested in serving the poor somewhere where priests are lacking.
One day, Fr. Gilberto Pinion, OMI, visited us at the seminary, looking for missionaries for his province of Mexico-Guatemala-Cuba. I remember saying to myself, “Why not Mexico?” And so, after two years spent in Poland as a priest, I left to fulfill my dream of a vocation in the missions.
I spent over 12 years in Mexico. It was a very nice time to get to know a new culture, completely different for mine. So many beautiful people welcomed me with open arms. I must also say it was a time of growing up, letting myself be “evangelized by the poor.” To be honest, it wasn’t always easy.
After 12 years in Mexico, it was time to ask myself, “What’s next?” Something made me believe that I could take on something new again. I had always heard about the need for missionaries in Cuba, and how difficult and demanding it is to be a missionary on this Caribbean Island. So, I decided to ask to be sent on a mission to Cuba.
Now, I have been in Cuba for about a year. A new mission, a new missionary adventure, and new responsibilities. The Cuban reality, you have to live it to believe it. But just like all those years in Mexico, here I also find many beautiful people in need of God.
We Oblates have two communities here, one in the Province of Havana and other in the Province of Pinar del Rio. We come from Brazil, America, Sri Lanka, and Poland. This year we also have with us a scholastic from Mexico who is living out his missionary experience. As a community, we serve five parishes.
For me, here in Cuba, our first mission is to be missionaries of hope, because there are many people here who have lost it. The second dimension of the mission is the ability to persevere.
It is worth mentioning that this year we are celebrating 25 years since the arrival of the first Oblates in Cuba. For us, it is a time to thank God, but also to dream, to seek new paths, and to renew our commitment to the missionary land.
As I look back, I never would have thought that a missionary dream would take me to Cuba. But here I am, Lord, to do Your will.
And finally, I ask all of you, do not forget the missionaries, pray for us a lot throughout the year. Pray that we may be witnesses of Christ, missionaries of mercy, and hope in this world.”
Fr. Tomasz Szafranski, OMI