Bishop Griselda Delgado del Carpio is a unique figure within the Anglican Communion.
The first female diocesan Anglican bishop in Latin America, she also leads the only autonomous diocese in the worldwide Anglican Communion: the Episcopal Church of Cuba.
Once a part of the U.S.-based Episcopal Church, Cuba was cut off from its parent province in 1967, following the tightening of the American embargo on Cuba. In the intervening years, Canada and Cuba have developed a special relationship through the Metropolitan Council of Cuba, with the Anglican Church of Canada providing financial and spiritual support.
Before her consecration in 2010, Delgado was priest-in-charge of the Church of Santa Maria Virgen in Itabo, Cuba, for 22 years, where she pioneered a food security program. Originally from Bolivia, Delgado left for Cuba in the 1980s, after her work as an activist put her at odds with her native country’s military regime.
Delgado is one of several international guests at General Synod 2016, and the Anglican Journal had a chance to sit down with her Friday evening, following her address to synod, to ask a few questions.
What is the biggest challenge facing the Episcopal diocese of Cuba today?
The biggest challenge is the formation of values in the younger generations, and that is why I am working with children and youth, adolescents and young people. Cuban society is not only secular, it is atheist, so for many decades and generations, there has been no sense of spirituality. Their vision is more technical, and more self-serving. They don’t have gratitude, and they have no idea about anything about God or how that is involved in their life.
How do regular Cubans view the Episcopal Church of Cuba?
The Episcopal church is not very well known in the Cuban society—far better known is the Roman Catholic Church, and also the Protestant churches, like the Pentecostals, Methodists, Baptists and Adventists. But the most known are the Roman Catholics and Pentecostals.
Is that changing?
It is, because we are doing work at the local level, in the communities, and it is all in the service of the local people. So it isn’t about asking that people come to the church to see that they are coming—that isn’t what the focus is. We are showing that the church is interested in doing acts of service to the people. That is what we call community projects. The local people are also participating in these projects, and they are starting to think about how they can be involved in the life of the church. This is making them ask questions about their own interior lives: what is faith, what is the church, what has the gospel been saying for 2,000 years, because now there are these concrete things in their lives.
It’s not only us—it’s that God is at work in their lives. Because [people] are witnessing and participating and experiencing the work in their lives, they are starting to be involved…
It is only little by little that this is happening. The church is not hugely visible yet, but it’s happening, little by little.
Does the Episcopal church have many ecumenical relationships with the other churches in Cuba?
Yes! It’s very ecumenical. We are always bridging with the Catholics, the Pentecostals the Baptist church. For example, the Anglican cathedral in Havana has ecumenical events, and we have an ecumenical council for Cuba, so all of the events—either local or even international—of these ecumenical things are hosted in the Anglican cathedral. The cathedral has a building with a dormitory where visiting guests can stay.
You are the first female diocesan bishop in the Anglican church in Latin America. Does that come with special challenges?
Yes, it does. It is hard for the people to make the shift to see a woman in that place instead of a man. When I started, the people assumed that I must be a feminist, and some wanted me to be a feminist and some didn’t want me to be a feminist. To try and keep that in balance is a challenge—if God has given me the responsibility to be a bishop, it is for everyone—men and women. But for many people, their assumptions about me weren’t at that level. At the beginning, it was a challenge to keep a balance in all that.
Some people were saying, “She’ll never be able to make it,” so to fight against those negative forces was a challenge. Because Cuba is in a Latin American context, it is very macho. Even though Cuba isn’t the same as other Latin American countries—Cuba isn’t as connected with machismo because from the time of the Cuban revolution, the vision was equality between the sexes—even still, some machismo exists.
So with all of those challenges, you have to integrate that into your work as a bishop.
How would you like to see the relationship between the Cuban church and The Episcopal Church evolve? How would you like the relationship between the Cuban and Canadian church to evolve?
With Canada, there [are] many decades of us working together. We need to continue to build this relationship. There are new things that we need to do. In a different way, in a different manner, but it still has to continue.
With TEC—for our generation, it is all new. In the beginning, we were a diocese of TEC and the relationship was very, very strong, working together. We separated and some individual relationships were maintained. Some people from the States have been to Cuba, but not a lot. But there was nothing structured, and this is what is new. We need to build a new structure, and it is not only from one side—it is both sides working together for this. So it is not only for you to come this way, but how together are we going to do this? It is going to take time.
To choose the line that we are to follow is what we have to do. The church in Cuba has a great happiness about this. Continuing companionship with both the States and Canada, we are going to keep moving forward. The three of us can encourage each other forward.
I believe in this future.