Friars of the US-6 provinces will have an opportunity to meet the new brothers of the Cuba fraternity during two special pilgrimages that are being planned by the Franciscan Missionary Union. The 2024 fraternal pilgrimages to Havana – the first scheduled Jan. 18-25, and the second, April 11-18 – are for US-6 friars only, according to FMU’s associate director Paul O’Keeffe, OFM.
“This is a great opportunity for friars of our US-6 provinces to get to know our new Franciscan brothers in Cuba, spending time with them in fraternity, eating and praying together, taking in the culture and sights in Havana City – and even an afternoon at the beach soaking in the Caribbean rays,” said Paul, who runs the FMU mission and pilgrimage program.
“Most significantly, this fraternal pilgrimage will be a wonderful experience for friars who are discerning a ministry of overseas mission in general, and Cuba in particular. It’s a chance to understand religion and Catholicism in Cuba, and appreciate the realities and challenges of Franciscan ministry in the country. It’s an opportunity to support our brothers in Cuba and experience their friar life,” added Paul, who has coordinated nearly 60 mission trips and pilgrimages for organizations and religious and lay people in the past decade to Jamaica, Washington, D.C., Assisi, South Africa, Cuba, Turkey, Morocco, and the Holy Land. He has led civil rights pilgrimages in the southern United States and has brought pilgrims on walking Camino routes in Spain.
The fraternity in Havana includes four Cuban-born friars and four friars from the Franciscan international community, including two from Italy, one from Ireland, and one from the U.S.
The custodies of Cuba and Puerto Rico were transferred last summer to Holy Name Province from the Custody of the Caribbean. As all members of US-6 provinces, the friar fraternities in Cuba and Puerto Rico will become part of the new national province in the United States when it becomes officially operational in October of this year.
Last month, Kevin Mullen, OFM, Provincial Minister of Holy Name Province, along with Provincial Vicar Lawrence Hayes, OFM, and Joseph Cavoto, OFM, made a fraternal visit to the brothers in San Juan, Puerto Rico – the first in-person encounter with either of the Caribbean fraternities since the custody transfer. The visitors reinforced the support of the friars on the mainland, provided an update on the US-6 unification process, and experienced the ministerial life of the brothers in San Juan.
Paul said next year’s pilgrimages provide the opportunity to signal the same message of support for the Caribbean fraternity. The first trip will come about three months after the completion of the US-6 unification process and the first chapter of the new national province.
“These pilgrimages will reinforce support from the mainland. Our brothers in Cuba can’t easily come to us, so it’s our chance to support them and see what their life is like. These trips will be a way to cement our relationship and bond that we now have with them,” said Paul, who met the Franciscans while serving as a lay missionary in Kenya and Ghana, where for six years he cared for the physically disabled and refugees from Sierra Leone and Liberia.
While the Cuba fraternity provides pastoral ministry at two parishes in Havana City – San Antonio Santuario (St. Anthony Shrine) and Santa Cruz (Holy Cross) – the friars have told Paul that they are seeking to expand their ministry to the countryside, where the population tends to be more spiritual and active in faith.
“The major challenge is that the friars can’t move around as autonomously as friars in other countries when it comes to proselytizing. But Cubans are very inquisitive; they want to learn about the world, and about religion. The friars offer after-school tutoring services, which provides the opportunity to engage with young people,” explained Paul, who also serves as Holy Name Province moderator for missions and evangelization. “The friars also make home visits as Catholic priests in support of the elderly and people in need. In providing humanitarian works and outreach services, people see the goodness of the friars and are drawn to them and the Catholic faith.”
The Cuba fraternity has requested that US-6 friars with interest in mission ministry discern for three months in Cuba, and then return to the States for three months before making a decision. “It is the hope that after the pilgrimage experiences, friars will have interest in returning to Cuba for this three-month discernment ministry,” said Paul, noting that a dozen or so friars Stateside have inquired about working in Cuba since last year’s custody transfer.
“As with all of our pilgrimages, this will give friars the chance to experience mission, rather than just talk and read about it,” said Paul, noting that next year’s friars-only pilgrimages will be FMU’s first to Cuba since the Covid-19 pandemic shut down all travel and activity in 2020.
For cost, accommodations and more information on the friars-only January 2024 and April 2024 Cuba pilgrimages, contact Paul by phone at 240-393-0532, or by email at email@example.com.