AROUND THE WORLD - South America

bolivia   -   peru  

cuba  -  haiti

Known as the Tibet of the Americas, landlocked Bolivia is the highest and most isolated country in the Americas. It has three distinct geographic zones: the mountains and Altiplano, the semitropical Yungas and temperate valleys of the mountain slopes, and the tropical lowlands. Fifty-five percent of its population of 8.5 million consists of the Quechua and the Aymara peoples who traditionally had not intermarried and had kept their languages, physical characteristics and many social traditions distinct. With a colonial heritage that is among the longest in the Americas, the Republic is still struggling today to provide its people with social, economic and political equality.

About 95 percent of Bolivians profess to be Catholics; nonetheless, a much smaller portion participates actively. Poverty is a favourable ground for different sects and native superstitions to flourish. The Church's weak presence in the rural areas has likewise encouraged the development of an Andean folk-Catholicism among the vast majority of indigenous people. An example is the near synonymous association of Pacha Mama (Mother Earth) and the Virgin Mary.

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The land of gold and of sun-worshipping Incas, Peru was the home of the largest empire in the world. With a population of more than 26 million today, it is a fascinating country with three regions that are naturally well divided: the Coasts, the Highlands and the Jungle, representing three entirely different worlds from the geographical, climatic and human point of view. In recent years, bold reform programs and significant progress in curtailing guerrilla activity and drug trafficking contribute to the country's economic growth.

As Peru moves from one crisis to the next, the emerging popular classes continue to look to the Church for leadership and moral support. The Religious Conference of Peru (CRP) has courageously taken on two major issues: integrated formation and the defence of human rights. The Catholic Church, to which over 90 percent of the population belongs, is recognized in Peru's Constitutions as deserving of government cooperation. The ceremonial aspects of the Catholic religion, moral dictates and values are profoundly embedded in Peruvian culture and society, with every village, town and city having its official church or cathedral and patron saint.

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May Cuba, with all its magnificent possibilities, open itself to the world and may the world be open to Cuba! This was the very first wish expressed by Pope John Paul in his address at Havana airport when he started his historic visit to Cuba on January 21, 1998.

Here is a nation that has a rich culture and abundant natural landscape all set within the gentle warmth of the Caribbean Sea. The island of Cuba is the largest of the Caribbean islands and one of the world's last bastions of communism. About 70 percent of its population of 11 million lives in towns and cities. Along with the faded elegance of Havana and other major cities, unfold the island's seemingly endless beaches of fine coral-coloured sand and the often overlooked natural grandeur of its interior.

In the past centuries, thousands and thousands of Spaniards, Africans and other people from neighbouring islands entered Cuba. The cultural environment on the island is rich and diverse. Though the great majority of the population is of Spanish descent African folk art, music and dancing in particular, have profoundly influenced the people. Such a mixture of races and cultures helped produce a uniquely Cuban culture. Because of its history, language and culture, Cuba is considered one of the Latin American and Caribbean nations.

Steadfast Presence and Witness

For some decades, members of different religions institutes in Cuba have had to live their vocation in unusual circumstances and this, without renouncing what is specific to their charism and spirituality. They have had to adapt to the prevailing situation and respond to the pastoral needs of the people particularly through their much valued service of Christ in the poor, the sick and the elderly.

Our Community in Cuba, with now more than half a century of history, has formed deep bonds of friendship with the people and the Church. It was in July 1948, when twelve of our Sisters were first assigned to Cuba. In less than six years, 46 of them had landed on the Island. They worked closely with the priests of the Society of the Foreign Missions of Quebec (P.M.É.) in seven parishes of the province of Matanzas. These pioneer days were permeated with the faith adventure of the very beginnings; so too, the following years, during which our Sisters encouraged and sustained the people through the different stages of the revolution.

The revolutionary process that already made headway towards practical atheism gave rise to new situations and required new training. After the exodus in 1961, the remaining group consisted of only ten members. With the absence of schools, our Community faced the challenge of finding other ways to live its mission in Cuba. Determined as they were to maintain their apostolic commitment, the Sisters kept up their catechetical work in parishes and their visits to the families. They continued animating the Christian communities. But these faith groups were decreasing in numbers due to the massive exodus of Cubans to the United States.

Our Sisters learned how to live and share the people's faith discreetly, and at times, in difficult situations and with scanty means. Persevering with the people has enabled them to diversify their pastoral work and to reach out to places where they would not have gone had they stayed in the schools. it also allowed them to ensure a new generation of Cuban Sisters.

Text MIC MISSION NEWS (April-May-June 2002)
Maria Anthea Raso, m.i.c.

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Haiti, Land of Hope

At the turn of the 21st century, the people of Haiti experience a powerful thirst for justice and peace. Liberated from the Duvalier dictatorship (1957-1986), freed from the repression of a military-ruled transition regime (1986-1990) and having survived the most violent coup d'état in their history (1991-1994), they long for true democracy. To attain it, they have waged heroic struggles and accepted enormous sacrifices.

But the current juncture remains a difficult one: those tragic years have produced intolerable impoverishment among the vast majority of people and an excessive rise of the cost of living. Besides, there remain hampering elements, obstacles and frailties on their journey towards democracy. The latest presidential elections plunged the country into a political crisis and the people no longer know to which candidates they should give their trust. However, the weakening of the social fabric has not affected the deep values of the people : courage, joy, a sense of sharing, solidarity, hospitality and love of freedom. We can say that a new generation of citizens has taken shape in the resistance of dictatorships. Everywhere, people are learning more and more how to live in a democracy. This marks a considerable progress!

In a Context of Change

Several generations of our missionaries have succeeded one another in Haiti. Arriving in 1943 at the request of Bishop Collignon, o.m.i. of Les Cayes, our Sisters listened attentively to the sufferings, hopes and faith of the Haitian people through services entrusted to them: the care of a group of aged people and the direction of a small school for poor children. Over the years, they have responded to many pressing needs in the areas of education and health care. Going over the recent history of the people of Haiti and over that of the Church gives us some insight into the journey our Sisters have gone through and the challenges they have had to meet to accomplish their mission.

Today, deeply touched by these events which have profoundly affected the life of the Haitian people, the Sisters of our Community in Haiti are firmly determined to walk with the people in their struggle for peace, justice and the respect of each ones rights. This major orientation of their pastoral plan is rooted in the Gospel. It calls for their audacity and hope. It is the vital link of spirit and enthusiasm that must motivate their commitments in the services of education or health care as well as in the different pastoral activities in which they engage.

Text M.I.C. Mission News (January-February-March 2002)
Céline Gauvin, m.i.c.

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