Anglican Cubans Revitalize Seminary

By Davidson, Jane | Anglican Journal, May 2002 | Go to article overview
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Anglican Cubans Revitalize Seminary

Davidson, Jane, Anglican Journal

Matanzas, Cuba

ALTHOUGH THE steep, broken road leads through the ugliest and poorest part of this Cuban city, at the end of the trip the sun shines brightly on white stucco buildings and palm trees of the Seminario Evangelico de Teologica in Matanzas.

Passing the street's grinding poverty, the open seminary gates reveal green lawns, rose gardens, white buildings and vegetable gardens hugging the hillside. A bright, gold chapel gleams in the sun at the back,

The seminary, funded and founded by the Presbyterian, Methodist and Anglican churches, with grants from parishes in the United States, is about 100 kilometres from Havana and about five minutes away from the parallel but weirdly different universe of the tourist playground of Varadero.

This haven of tranquillity, home now to Episcopalian, Baptist, Church of God and Lutheran students, to name some of the 15 participating denominations, struggled to survive the double blows of the Cuban revolution and the subsequent withdrawal of funding by the Episcopal Church of the United States of America (ECUSA) in 1967.

Although the seminary had been operating since 1947, in early post-revolutionary times, Christianity became unpopular and suspect under Communist rule.

Professors and mentors

This trend corresponded with the regime of an Episcopalian bishop "with a closed mind," said Clara Luz Ajo Lazaro, a feminist theologian whose post-graduate studies at the University in Sao Paulo, Brazil were sponsored by the Anglican Church of Canada.

In the 1960s, she said, because of this bishop, the church stopped working with young people and instead devoted its energies to opposing the revolution.

Mrs. Ajo, and her husband, Rev. Pedro Triana Fernandez, an Anglican priest, are both professors and mentors to students at the seminary.

Their white stucco house, which sits at the heart of the small campus, is open to any of the 187 students and at any given time of day there are students in the rocking chairs, students in the kitchen or students helping Mr. Triana move gas tanks to keep the stove working.

"When I want to prepare lectures," said Mr. Triana, "I have to close all the shutters and lock the front door, or it just never stops."

Both professors were sponsored by the Anglican Church of Canada when they went to Brazil to do post-graduate work. Both now have doctorates, and today the Canadian church still pays Mrs. Ajo's yearly salary -- equivalent to about $6,000 Canadian. The salary may seem small but many on Cuba survive on about $15 U.S. a month.

"The investment more than paid off," said Rev. Philip Wadham, who is regional mission coordinator, Latin America and the Caribbean, within the partnerships department of General Synod. "Look at the dedication of these two," he said.

At one time, this scene would have been unimaginable. The personal history of Mrs. Ajo and Mr. Triana is intertwined with the history of the seminary, and Anglicanism, in Cuba.

Back to school

In 1964, Mrs. Ajo, whose parents were originally Quakers, was a student at the seminary. "There were few women in Christian education then," she said. She found she liked theology and studied with Mr. Triana.

He became a clergyman and they moved to Camaguey where he had a parish. But after a few years, ECUSA pulled the-plug and ruled Cuban Episcopalians could not be part of ECUSA.

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