But although their Afro-Cuban Santeria religion owes much to Roman Catholicism, many are decidedly unenthusiastic about Pope Benedict XVI’s March 26-28 tour of Cuba, even if it is being hailed as a watershed moment for a church seeking to boost its influence on this Communist-run island.
Santero priests still remember the last time a pontiff came to town â€” and flatly refused to meet with them. They are expecting no better treatment this time, and some are openly disappointed.
Their religion is by far the most popular on the island, with adherents outnumbering practicing mainstream Catholics 8-1. Yet as far as the Catholic church is concerned, “we live in the basement, where nobody sees us,” said Lazaro Cuesta, a Santero high priest with a strong grip and a penetrating gaze.
“We have already seen one pope visit … and at no moment did he see fit to talk to us.”
Cuesta’s bitterness stems from what many Santeria leaders see as an unforgivable snub by Pope John Paul II during his historic 1998 tour.
Before that visit, Santero high priests, or “babalawo,” led a daylong ceremony to ask the spirits to protect John Paul and make his trip a success. As men, women and children danced to the throb of African drums, the priests blew cigar smoke and spat consecrated alcohol to salute the dead.
But while the pope met with Evangelicals, Orthodox leaders and representatives of the island’s minuscule Jewish community, he never deigned to meet with the Santeria practitioners who had danced for his good health, nor even to acknowledge their faith. [More]