Whither Cuba in John Paul’s Wake?
A celebrated refugee is hopeful but not especially optimistic
BY RAYMOND T. CORDANI
November 26-December 2, 2006 Issue | Posted 11/22/06 at 11:00 AM
Finding Mañana: A Memoir of
a Cuban Exodus
(Penguin, 2005) tells the story of the 1980 boatlift that brought more than
125,000 Cubans to the
Her tale is constructed in two
parts comprised of alternating chapters: growing up in
Ojito, a journalism professor at
What role did faith play for you when you were writing Finding Mañana?
I don’t know that I can answer
that there was a role that faith plays directly, but gratitude did. I started
to research this book because I felt I needed to find those people to thank
them because I felt they had all played a role in getting me out of
I felt many times through this process that I was meant to write this book. Many things happened that pointed to me that I was in the right direction and it was almost like the book had been waiting for me. You can call it faith, you can call it coincidence, you can call it a miracle. I call it a terrific moment in my life. There have been many happy coincidences I’ve had in reporting this book.
What was it like to grow up Catholic in Castro’s
I remember being told, “How can a smart girl like you believe in God?” I’ve also heard from people who were told, “Close your eyes and ask God for an orange. Pray really hard. Now open your eyes. Do you see an orange?” And there wouldn’t be an orange. And they would say, “See? God doesn’t exist.”
We were never specifically told,
“You must not believe in God.” But we were made to feel that to believe in God
was a very silly thing to do. And then, beyond that, was the Church. It was not
only silly but it was in a certain way dangerous. They kicked nuns and priests
You write that you felt compelled to renounce the Catholic faith. How did that experience change you?
It was a horrible experience. Imagine what that does to a child. I felt that I was being punished for something that was beyond me, so much a part of my culture and part of my house. At home we always talked about God. It’s something that was there, like the facts of life. I was in the choir; I took piano lessons with the woman who directed the choir. It was very much my community. I spent all my Saturday afternoons of my childhood there. And they were actually lovely experiences. When I went back in 1998 I found a very, very active church.
You covered Pope John Paul’s 1998 visit to
It was fascinating. I met a priest. … He had a motorcycle and he rode around to people’s homes and brought them food and took care of a woman with a broken leg. The children exercised at the church and gave the children gifts. They had an entire system developed where they would reward the children for going to church. [The priest] had become a leader in the community.
That the Pope was going to
The woman said, “Oh, I know what you want. The best church, the neighborhood that nobody goes to, is called Santo Suarez; the church is La Milagrosa.” And that’s my church; that’s my neighborhood! I almost dropped the phone. I was shocked when I heard it — the same church I left.
What do you think will happen after Castro dies? Will the Church in
I sense that the sort of momentum
after the Pope went to
John Paul’s visit to
Why did Castro let John Paul visit
Why would he do that? That’s a
question I’ve asked myself many, many times. My impression is that they were
just coming out of a very bad economic period.
I couldn’t know exactly why,
because he didn’t get anything out of it except some feeling of good will.
Perhaps it was something he felt he wanted to do for the people of
Raymond T. Cordani
Mirta Ojito online
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