THE opening procession for the inaugural service of the 93rd synod of the Episcopalian Church in Cuba was led off by the dean’s dog, Puchurro.
The dog, who had the low slung and bouncing step of a dachshund but the coat of a black spaniel, waited patiently at the back of the church until it looked as though things were finally getting going, and then trotted down the aisle just ahead of the assembled bishops, clergy and seminary students who were decked out in white albs and purple coloured stoles to mark the Lenten season.
Clergy and delegates sang and walked, and the dog grinned a spaniel grin, looking upward left and right at the delegates in the pews with an expression that for all the world said “all this for me?”
‘Peace’ is very serious
There were several religious services during synod, and each time the exchange of the Peace took at least a half an hour. This was because when Cuban Episcopalians exchange the Peace, they take it very seriously. They stampede. Every single person leaves his or her seat and heads for centre aisle, joining in a melee of hugging and kissing and handshaking and talking. No one is satisfied until they have touched and greeted every other person in the church.
At noon the very first day of synod, as the debate around Rev. Gaskin swirled and raged, two little girls in red and white Cuban school uniforms, clasping hands, walked purposefully up the center of the aisle toward the bishop, who was presiding over the meeting at the front of the sacristy.
The cathedral dean got up from his seat and walked over to the baptismal font, where, grinning broadly, he sprinkled holy water on the two children and gave them a blessing.
Synod ground to a halt. “It happens every day at noon,” Francisco de Arazoza, director of communications for the cathedral, whispered to me. “The children from the school next door can come in for some holy water and a blessing.”
During synod, authorities were fumigating Havana and issuing public health warnings on television, that showed how to dispose of the eggs of disease-carrying mosquitoes. An insect-borne virus had already killed a few people in Havana, and the government was sparing no effort to eradicate any threat to tourism. The fumigation trucks were preceded by police cars, sirens blarring.