Global Outreach

Companion Parish Relationship with Cuba: 2024 Update

On September 14, 2015 the Vestry approved a companion parish relationship with Iglesia Episcopal San Francisco de Asís (St. Francis of Assisi Episcopal Church) in Cardenas, Cuba.  

April 11, 2024

Christ Church Exeter Returns to Cuba

Christ Church has sent groups to Cuba eight out of the last ten years, missing only the two years of the Pandemic. Each year we center our visit in the city of Cárdenas, about two and a half hours east of Havana.   My first visit to the island was back in 1986, which was followed by a year of studies at the ecumenical seminary studies in Matanzas. A fellow classmate at the time was a young Aurelio de la Paz.   Today the Rev. Aurelio de la Paz is the priest of San Francisco de Asis parish (St. Francis of Assisi) in Cárdenas, where my son Will Pendleton spent a gap year in 2013-14 as a missionary with the Episcopal Church’s Young Adult Service Corps (YASC) program.  Will was an important part of beginning the relationship between Christ Church and St. Francis.  Many of you know that it was there where Will met and later married Naylet Jorge Perez.  Will, Naylet and son Enzo live in New Hampshire and have forever forged a Pendleton family connection with Cuba.  This ongoing parish to parish relationship has offered many others who have traveled there a look into Cuba daily life.

My wife Leslie Pendleton, Dale Cavanaugh and I made up this year’s smaller group during Easter week.  We flew from Miami directly into the resort town of Varadero, just 30 minutes from Cárdenas.  With local transportation difficult and gasoline hard to come by, we avoid Havana if we can so that we can fly into an airport closer to our companion parish. 

Part of our mission success was achieved by simply securing six very heavy suitcases through Cuban customs.  Each year, many at Christ Church donate over-the-counter medications that are nearly impossible to come on the island due to chronic shortages and the collapse of the once enviable Cuban health care system.   These medicines have become sacramental: outward signs of sense of solidary and hope.   Inside the suitcases were also car parts, replacement water filters, light bulbs, clergy stoles, chalices, beans, rice, Spam, and coffee. 

As we worshipped with the congregation on the Sunday, it is clear that our friends at St. Francis continue to witness and walk in Resurrection faith.  The sacred space is filled with joyous singing and laughter – a needed refuge and sanctuary from the grueling life they lead each day.  Christian hope is alive and well in the Episcopal Church in Cuba.

Yet there is little optimism that anything will change politically or economically for the country in the near or distant future.  The people with whom we met are keenly aware of the growing global movement towards more authoritarian regimes.  They see few signs of democracy breaking out around the world and each presidential election in the U.S. leaves them with a sense of uncertainty and dread of what might come.

Electrical power on the island is intermittent: we had power outages on most of the days we were in Cárdenas.  The city is considered a “hot city,” meaning that the government keeps a close eye and lid on potential street protests when the power goes out for long periods of time, especially at night.  In recent weeks crowds have smashed windows at government stores and offices during those times – protests unheard of in previous years. 

Inflation is extremely high as the country has not bounced back after the Pandemic.  The combination of the Cuban government’s mismanagement and corruption mixed with continued U.S. sanctions has led to widespread poverty and massive migration out of the country, largely through Nicaragua and then northward to the U.S. border.  The country is filled with grandparents raising young children as parents and young people look elsewhere for a future. 

Christ Church Exeter installed the first U.V. water filtration system at St. Francis in 2015, as well as installing and maintaining other purification systems throughout the country.  The Exeter Rotary Club contributed more systems in 2016.  Each day of our visit we saw many people in the community fill up multiple water bottles to take back to their homes from the system at St. Francis.  Over these years it would hard to know how many people this important outreach has impacted.  One older man told me that since he had started coming to the church for water, many of the chronic health problems in his family have improved. 

Christ Church has recently received a S.D.G. (Sustainable Development Goals) grant for $3000 from the Episcopal Church in New Hampshire to continue the feeding ministry in Cárdenas.  Many elderly parishioners, especially those without family in U.S. to send remittance money, regularly go hungry with the meager government rations run out.

Cuba is only one country in the world today caught up in extremely difficult place with the future very much uncertain.  There is a world pain in Haiti, Gaza, Congo, Sudan, Ukraine and beyond.  Yet through these nearly annual trips to Cuba, just 90 miles from our shores, the people of New Hampshire are making a small, but I believe, significant impact in the lives of more than a few of God’s children.   I am forever reminded by St. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 12:26: “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.”  

Pray for Cuba.

Submitted by The Rev. Mark Pendleton

Project Feliz Navidad Cuba

In December of 2023 & 2022, Christ Church Exeter joined with other individuals and churches in the U.S. and Canada to send funds down to the island (hand carried by travelers) to provide a community Christmas meal/celebration for every parish and mission community of the Episcopal Diocese in Cuba. This project is a tangible expression of love and support of our brothers and sisters in Cuba. There are 51 parishes and mission communities receiving these funds for Christmas. We partner with the parish in Cardenas, one the the largest in the diocese. Read more about the project here.

Youth Mission Trip to Cuba in April 2019

Christ Church took a youth-focused trip during public school break in April 2019 to our companion parish in Cardenas, Cuba. We flew from Boston to Miami on the evening of Easter Day, April 21, and then to Cuba the following morning. We joined our companion parish for Sunday services on April 28 and then flew home Monday, April 29.

The group was able to take down a water filtration system and spare parts for the other water systems already brought down to Cuba. The Exeter Rotary Club also contributed towards maintaining the water systems that the club installed in 2016. Over-the-counter medicines were transported, many of which were donated by church members.

The bishop of NH, The Right Rev. Robert Hirschfeld joined the group and was able to meet Bishop Griselda Delgado del Carpio of Cuba. Watch the video below:

Cuba & Trips in the News: