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Metropolitan Gregory's Archpastoral Visit to Cuba (1/27/20)

JOHNSTOWN, PA – (Diocesan Chancery) – His Eminence, Metropolitan Gregory represented His All-Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew the weekend of January 24 – 27, 2020, during an archpastoral visit to Havana, Cuba. Metropolitan Gregory joined His Eminence, Metropolitan Athenagoras, The Primate of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Mexico, Central America, Colombia, Venezuela, and the Caribbean Islands for the celebration of the 15th Anniversary of the Consecration of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral and the re-establishment of the Orthodox Church in Cuba.

The first Greek Orthodox Church, Sts. Constantine and Helen, was built in Havana in 1950. Unfortunately it never had the opportunity to function as a church. Political turmoil in the nation created an unstable situation for several years. In 1959, the Communist Party of Fidel Castro rose to power via a revolution, overthrowing the government of Fulgencio Batista. The church building eventually was repurposed as a movie theater.

Upon assuming his Archpastoral ministry to the Metropolis of Mexico, His Eminence Metropolitan Athenagoras, visited Cuba in 1997, representing the Ecumenical Patriarchate in an effort to re-establish the Orthodox Church there. The difficulty Metropolitan Athenagoras encountered was that the Greek community could not register without clergy, and clergy were not allowed to be brought in because the community was not registered. But he persisted and returned to Cuba every three or four months, attempting to have Sts. Constantine and Helen – long since closed – returned to the Greek Orthodox community.

In the year 2000, upon learning that exiled King Constantine II of Greece was going to visit Cuba, Metropolitan Athenagoras, anticipating that the King would meet with President Castro, contacted King Constantine and asked him to try to persuade President Castro to return the church to the Greeks. The outcome of the conversation was favorable and three years later, a new church was built, St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral, the first and only Christian church built in 43 years. Upon its completion, President Castro wrote to His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, inviting him to come to Cuba and consecrate the church.

In the years following the Consecration, through the labors of Metropolitan Athenagoras, the Holy Spirit has planted the seeds of a vibrant Orthodox community in Cuba, which consists of a large number of Cubans who have found Orthodoxy. St. Nicholas has truly become the center of Orthodoxy in Cuba, where anywhere from 125 to 500 parishioners worship on Sundays. There is a large outdoor step-down baptismal font on the church grounds where countless have become Orthodox Christians. Located next to the Cathedral property is the St. Nicholas soup kitchen, manned by church volunteers, which serves food to the poor of Havana.

On Saturday January 25 Metropolitan Gregory was given a tour of the church and met with local clergy and parishioners. Next stop was a visit to the Greek Embassy. There they were greeted by the Ambassador of Greece to Cuba who hosted a wonderful luncheon in of honor of the visit to Cuba. Local cuisine was offered with a touch of the Greek kitchen. The Metropolitans were joined by several Greeks who live and/or do business in Cuba. It was a very nice affair.

On Sunday morning Metropolitan Athenagoras and Metropolitan Gregory headed to the Cathedral for Orthros (Matins) and the Divine Liturgy. His Grace Bishop Pakratios, the Auxiliary Bishop and the local Priests greeted them. The primary language for services was Spanish, although a significant portion of the services was in Greek. A few times Church Slavonic and even English were heard. The services were spiritually uplifting. The church was full of parishioners, along with various guests. Two Roman Catholic Bishops, the Muslim Imam of Havana, along with Cuban Government officials were in attendance. The President of the country was represented by his assistant. The Greek Ambassador to Cuba and the Consul General of Panama were also in attendance. The Cuban media were also present, including Granma which is the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba. Monday morning it had an article on its front page about the religious services and festivities connected with the 15th Anniversary of the Consecration of St. Nicholas Cathedral.

At the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy, Metropolitan Gregory had the honor and great pleasure to read His All-Holiness’ Archpastoral Letter to the people. Following the reading of the Patriarch’s letter, Metropolitan Athenagoras kindly offered Metropolitan Gregory the opportunity to address the people. He spoke in Modern Greek and it was translated by one of the Priests into Spanish. He explained who he was, where he was from, how he never believed he would ever visit Cuba in his lifetime. His Eminence spoke about the people he had met in just a few days, especially the children and young adults.

Following the Divine Liturgy everyone adjourned to the hall next door for a wonderful music concert. The first group was an all female string orchestra, around 20 young women with violins, violas, and cellos. They were awesome. A few young girls performed at the piano. They were delightful. A member of the church congregation sang a popular Greek tune with his operatic voice. It was exquisite. A choral group sang in multiple languages. They were extra ordinary. All were great musical talents.
When the musical program was finished, everyone went outside into the courtyard for a luncheon under the palm trees and other local plants. While the excellent meal was served, young children from the neighborhood elementary school entertained the gathered crowd with several wonderful skits.

“The trip to Havana, Cuba was a once in a lifetime event for me, kind of a dream,” Metropolitan Gregory said. “I was able to represent the Mother Church and the Ecumenical Patriarch, I reacquainted myself with Metropolitan Athenagoras who I not seen in person for many years, I met wonderful young people, I met extraordinary adults and I encountered a different culture and country. It was truly an awesome experience.”

View Video : www.youtube.com/watch?v=52yKnMGHduQ
St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral
St. Nicholas icon in the Cathedral. Notice that the Saint is standing
on the island of Cuba as its Protector.
Interior of Cathedral
Metropolitan Gregory next to commemorative plaque for Consecration of
Cathedral showing Patriarch Bartholomew and President Fidel Castro
Outdoor Baptismal Font
Reception in the Greek Embassy
Divine Liturgy
Photo: Dunia Álvarez Palacios
Divine Liturgy
Divine Liturgy
Photo: Dunia Álvarez Palacios
Divine Liturgy
Photo: Dunia Álvarez Palacios
Divine Liturgy.
Photo: Dunia Álvarez Palacios
Divine Liturgy
Photo: Dunia Álvarez Palacios
Cuban Parliament Building at night
All female string orchestra at celebratory concert
All the neighborhood children performing the finale