For thousands of years, people have found connection and belonging through religion. Now, in a world operating in an increasingly global manner, churches have extended their relationships and reach. St. Ambrose of Woodbury Catholic Church has experienced this through their sister church, San Miguel de Cubitas in Esmeralda, Cuba.
Woodbury resident and St. Ambrose parishioner Gary Moore first approached the Rev. Stan Mader shortly after the new pastor joined the parish in 2015. Mader was eager, but both agreed the relationship should be just that—a mutually beneficial relationship where both churches could learn from each other and grow. “From the very start we were aware of the common stereotype around a wealthier, U.S. church coming and sponsoring a less fortunate community,” Mader says. “We knew we had to make it a relationship based on learning rather than on monetary support.”
Mader and Moore took the inaugural trip to Esmeralda in October 2016. The parish community they experienced was shaped by decades of suppression by communist leadership. From the early 1960s to 2014, it was extremely difficult to openly practice Catholicism in Cuba, leaving generations of Catholics who had never worshipped in a church or learned catechism. “Their worshipping spaces are not designated; they are in common spaces used for many different gatherings,” Moore says. “What they lacked in physical structures, they had in faith. These people have a passion for faith unlike anything I’ve come across.”
Just five months later, in March 2017, six St. Ambrose parishioners made the trip. Among them was Melissa Kaintz, and for her, the takeaway was strong connection and engagement. “It’s so clear the parishioners are there for their beliefs and for each other,” Kaintz says. “Every member is so involved and engaged with the parish community. It’s inspired me to get more involved here.”
In October, the Rev. Yosbel Puentes and Sister Leticia traveled from Cuba to experience the St. Ambrose community. Their trip was equal part tourist trip as it was parish introduction. Between Masses, meetings and meals with parish families and groups, the two saw the best of Woodbury, Minneapolis, St. Paul and even Stillwater. They were immensely impressed by the community’s size, hospitality and warmth. They were less impressed with the cool Minnesota temperature.
However, their visit was shadowed by the series of hurricanes that swept through the coast of Cuba that month, devastating many communities and uprooting crops on which their economy depends. When Puentes and Sister Leticia attended a Mass during their visit, they spoke about the impact of the hurricanes. The offering collected was the largest in St. Ambrose’s recent history.
The most recent trip to Cuba this past January drew 17 St. Ambrose parishioners, including eight between ages 19 and 25; two more trips are planned this year. "As this partnership continues, we’d like to get as many parishioners of many ages as possible to Cuba,” Mader says. “To really translate this exchange of faith and its power, we need people to experience it. We’ve learned so much, and there’s so much learning left to do.”
Hurricane Relief For San Miguel de Cubitas
To donate to hurricane relief efforts for San Miguel, email Greg Hereford, St. Ambrose of Woodbury business administrator, at firstname.lastname@example.org.