I don't practice Santeria, do I

No threat to the regime

In her apartment block, Yanisleidi is a member of the Committee to Defend the Revolution. The Santería poses no threat to the government. Since 1992, the revised constitution has also guaranteed freedom of religion, including for party members. Fidel Castro himself is respected by the Santeros because of a mystical occurrence. When the Comandante gave a speech to a large audience on January 8, 1959, shortly after the victory of the revolution, a white dove fluttered on his shoulder. Exactly thirty years later, in the same place, the event repeated itself. And because the white dove in the Santería symbolizes the world creator Obatalá, Castro is considered the chosen one.

Now the question arises: who will the dove fly to this time - the Máximo Líder or the Pontifex maximus? At least the Pope can hope. He will end his visit with an open-air service that he will hold in Havana's gigantic Revolution Square. On March 16, the Vatican spoke at a press conference against the US trade embargo imposed on Cuba 50 years ago. The decisive political message for the leadership of the revolution - with it the Holy See condemns the hated "diabolical empire", so to speak. In return, the Cuban Foreign Ministry has set up a website about the Pope's visit. And Cardinal Ortega was allowed to address the Catholic population freely in a televised address. “Benedict”, he announced, “is the Pope of Truth”. But in Cuba the Pope encounters different truths.

One of them represents Yanisleidi, who absolutely wants to take part in the papal mass in order to pay homage to Obatalá, who is dressed in white, who brings peace. Before that, however, she will celebrate the birthday of the patron saint of her godmother. There, as every year, the ancestors are summoned with consecrated drums and sung Yoruba litany. Next to the decorated altar, on a small table covered with white, there are five glasses with water, a vase with red carnations, a crucifix and a bottle with cheap perfume: Spiritism, Christianity and ancestral cult together in a small space. The beguiling percussion, but also rum and plenty of food, even unearthly beings do not stay away for long. At some point, when the drops of holy water have mixed with the sweat of the dancers, a "dead person" - as the ancestors are called - will drive into someone's body. What follows is a tumult between ecstasy and epilepsy: the obsessed person rolls his eyes, releases undreamt-of strength in his twitching dance, sometimes he even makes prophecies with the voice of the deceased. The presence of the deified ancestors, the intoxication of the strange, finally the blissful exhaustion - all of this works like an act of collective liberation.

“The whole island is obsessed”, groans the author Martin Cruz Smith in his novel “Night in Havana”. Maybe he's right. However, it does not work entirely without the Catholic Church: The Santería requires its disciples to receive Christian baptism before initiation.

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