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Sunday, June 23, 2024
The Observer

University hosts scholars, theologians in Cuba

Over fall break, students and professors from the University traveled to Cuba to meet with other scholars and theologians to discuss the impact of Pope Francis’ visits to the Americas.

Luis Ricardo Fraga, co-director of Latin American/North American Church Concerns, was one of the professors and said the trip was unique for a number of reasons.

“Our Institute for Latino Studies has traditionally focused on Latinos in the United States,” Fraga said. “But as one thinks about Latinos in the United States, it becomes very apparent that there are things happening in Latin America that have implications for Latinos in the United States that allow us to simultaneously allow us to understand events in Latin America and understand events in the U.S. at the same time, because they’re very related.”

The visit of Pope Francis to the Americas and the United States is one of those “remarkable” events, Fraga said.

“When [Pope Francis] was in the United States — also in Latin America, but mostly in the United States — several times he used the term ‘Las Americas,’ the Americas,” he said. “What he was saying was, we need to think more deeply about our common destiny and linked fate as Catholics, that where our interests and futures may be more interrelated than ever before.”

Fraga said he and his fellow co-director, Timothy Matovina, approached theology professor Peter Casarella about arranging a meeting to discuss this in Cuba.

“[Casarella] was already teaching a course about Catholicism in Cuba and he said, ‘Well, what if we think of Cuba and the normalization of relations there, and the role the Vatican played in facilitating that bringing together of the United States and Cuba, what if we thought about inviting a set of scholars and theologians from Latin America and the US to talk about the impact of Pope Francis’ visit?’” Fraga said.

The idea for the colloquium fit perfectly with Casarella’s existing course, Fraga said, and they immediately started planning the trip.

“Already, we could see how everything was just fitting together,” he said. “And [Casarella] said, ‘You know, we can take a group of students down there, we can invite some of my friends who do work on Pope Francis, and work on Catholicism in Bolivia and Brazil and Peru and England and the United States and we can all get together in Cuba to talk about it.’ And we just thought, ‘Perfect.’ I mean, perfect.”

Once the arrangements to travel to Cuba were made, Fraga said he found the actual travel process to be smoother than expected.

“It’s actually very easy to travel to Cuba, and we weren’t sure how easy it was going to be,” Fraga said. “What most of us did was fly commercially to Miami and then from Miami, we then flew to Cuba on Havana Air, which I assume is a Cuban-owned airline. We were there in about 45 minutes and once we landed, the visa was very simple, it was already arranged for and it was just a half sheet of paper. Getting back to the United States was almost the same, if not easier.”

Fraga said traveling in Havana was a fascinating experience.

“Havana is one of the oldest colonial cities and one could make the argument it was the cradle of Catholicism in the Western Hemisphere,” he said. “So for Catholics, like I said one could make an argument that it holds a very special place.”

Havana also was a major commercial center for generations, Fraga said, but was in decline for several decades due to the embargo.

“You get the sense that it was a bustling area, and it had been that historically, but it was a major commercial center for rum and cigars, mostly due to the climate and region it was in,” he said. “Well, all of that stopped when the revolution occurred and we introduced the embargo in 1960.”