SANTIAGO DE CUBA – The Caridad del Cobre church, which honors Cuba’s patron saint – the Virgin of Caridad del Cobre –, remembered late revolutionary leader Fidel Castro at Sunday Mass, where Catholic faithful prayed for him and asked for his eternal rest.
“Of course we’ve remembered Fidel. We came to (pray) for him so that he remains in our hearts because he was, is and will continue to be our commander,” Marixa Vazquez said upon leaving the service, unable to contain her tears.
Castro’s ashes were interred on Sunday at a private ceremony at Santiago de Cuba’s Santa Ifigenia Cemetery.
Mirta Martinez, 74, decided to attend Mass at the church, some 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the eastern city, because the day before she almost missed the procession bearing his ashes when it arrived in Santiago.
“It went by so quickly where we were that I couldn’t shout out to him because I felt so emotional. But I came here to the church and I asked Christ to take him to glory where he may rest because he struggled so much in his life, up until the time he died, until his last moment. What I’m asking for you is for you to go to glory, Commander,” she said.
Luis del Castillo, a bishop emeritus from Uruguay who presided at the Mass at the church, said that, without doubt, Sunday is “a significant day for the entire nation.”
Baptized and educated at Jesuit schools, Castro has a special place in the Caridad del Cobre church, where small images of him and his brothers Raul and Ramon sent by their mother Lina Ruz to the church when they were imprisoned at the start of the revolutionary struggle have been preserved.
When asked what Cuba will be like without Castro, the retired bishop said that “it depends on up to what point each Cuban takes responsibility for continuing to build a fairer, more peaceful, more fraternal Cuba with reconciliation among all Cubans.”
Prayers were also said for Castro at Havana’s Santa Barbara church.
The prayers at the two churches are the only religious element during a week of otherwise secular funeral events and tributes focusing on the figure of Castro and his revolutionary legacy.
Up until 1991, the Cuban Revolution had proclaimed its atheistic character and, although freedom of religion was never expressly forbidden in the communist country, religious practice was persecuted for decades.
However, the visits of Popes John Paul II in 1998, Benedict XVI in 2012 and Francis in 2015 were key milestones resulting in massive pardons of prisoners and the recovery of Christmas as a local holiday in 1997.