CUBANS will have the day off from work on April 6 in recognition of Good Friday, one of the holiest days in the calendar of Christians who believe in commemorating the Crucifixion of Christ. It will be another historic concession on the part of the Cuban regime which has clung steadfastly to Communist ideology since the revolution of 1953.
Communism and Christianity have never been comfortable together, yet Cuba, under the Castro brothers, Fidel and Raul, has managed to "work out something". The Roman Catholic Church as well as some other denominations have been allowed to carry on their choice of liturgy, so long as they keep to the confines of their places of worship, do not cross the line into government business or go out proselytising in the wider community.
The regime permitted the visit of Pope John Paul II (the Second) in 1998. He persuaded the Castros to allow the restoration of Christmas to the Roman Catholic calendar. If Christmas, then why not Good Friday? So, Benedict XVI makes his bid in 2012, in the course of his recent three-day visit to Havana. Among his requests to the Castro brothers, he asks for Good Friday to be treated as a holiday, giving hard-working Cubans a day to rest. It is not known if he brought up the religious significance, but certainly it would have been foremost in his mind.
Initially, reports from the Associated Press which covered the visit, didn't hold out much hope that the request would be granted. After all, Communism still rules Cuba. It was noted also that modern Cubans hardly know about the significance of Good Friday and further, the Pope's request was described as "unusual, seeing that Good Friday does not have special status in the United States, much of Europe and Mexico, the most Catholic of the world's Spanish-speaking countries".
I hardly imagine that the Revolution cares what people in the US, Europe and Mexico think. After all, Cuba has been doing what it wants for almost six decades. Then, surprisingly, when it seemed that Benedict's request would not spin, the regime agreed to declare Good Friday a holiday. Once again the Castros have proved themselves adept at managing situations like this, for the glory of the Revolution. Fidel wins again.
WHEN I ASKED a notable leader of our local Roman Catholic Church whether he knew how many Catholics are in Cuba, he admitted that he didn't. "Even if there was such a record, who could verify it?" As a member of the Roman Catholic hierarchy in the Caribbean who met Fidel Castro when he came here in 1977, he recalls asking the Cuban leader why the regime had made certain concessions to the church, despite the rigid doctrine of Communism. My source recalled: "Fidel admitted that even in a revolution, there are times when you have to take a break."
In a recent quote in a March 29, 2012 edition of his Reflections by Comrade Fidel, the Cuban leader writes: "Sharing a friendship does not mean you have to share beliefs."
Reports from Havana in last weekend's Sunday Observer included quotes from workers saying that they had no idea what Good Friday was about but they were glad for the time off from work. No doubt the Church's objective is that in time, Cuban Catholics will come to know the true significance of Good Friday and embrace it, like the rest of the Gospel.
WE JAMAICANS live in a country where, despite all its numerous faults, we are free to worship on Good Friday, never mind the annual media controversy about whether there is validity to the events of the Easter narrative. Growing up in the Good Friday culture, it was a day when youthful enthusiasm was curbed by parents until after 3 pm when, according to the biblical accounts, the events of the crucifixion were concluded. Either we went dutifully to church for Three-Hour service or submitted to the command: "Keep yourselves quiet until Three Hour done."
The day's music on the radio was classical and low-key. The main meal of the day was served, not at midday but after three o'clock. Bun and cheese had to suffice before "pot put pon fire". Salt salmon was the protein of the day, carefully soaked overnight and skilfully prepared. I can't even remember now what it tasted like and why the fuss. Even if I had doubts, I wouldn't "loss mi pass" in those days of youth and let my mother hear the culinary critique.
If we were lucky, in the evening, we would be permitted to attend a Passion Play staged in the church hall, or even luckier still, go to the Carib for a movie featuring Charlton Heston passing off himself as Moses or God, in The Ten Commandments. Then, there was Victor Mature doing the Samson thing, pulling down the temple on himself after fooling around with Delilah. You had to be well up in the teens, however, to be considered for that one.
GOOD FRIDAY was a time for cultural rituals now hardly seen or entirely forgotten, like cutting into the bark of the physic nut tree to see the sap run red as blood at noon. Nobody has ever explained to me why the tree responded that way at that time. It certainly didn't before or after. Do we still have physic nut trees, or those strange lilies which would suddenly pop out of the ground where they had lain hidden, bloom a brief while, as if in salute to the resurrection, only to disappear as mysteriously as they came?
Other Good Friday "wonders" involved the breaking of an egg into a glass of water, leaving it in the sun and at midday, trying to interpret the image captured in it, a ring for marriage, a ship for travel, a coffin for death, etc - all in the eye of the beholder.
Many of these simple but satisfying customs have disappeared and are nothing but legends now. I can hardly imagine my mother and others of her time, reconciled to bikinied "escapees" on the beach, instead of being in church, soberly clad, joining in abstinence and penitence. However, not even that can deter those who are committed to the Good Friday story.
SOME TIME AGO, when, as a young and innocent abroad, recipient of a journalism fellowship, being educated in the ways of America, I found myself in a west coast city on Good Friday. Nobody was observing any of the rituals I knew. It was just another same-old, same-old day. I could hear my mother's command: "Keep yourself quiet till after Three Hour". No such luck. The hustle and bustle was overwhelming. I couldn't believe it. Worse yet, I had to catch a plane to another city, which meant leaving before three o'clock. Fearfully, I kept my appointment - and not only survived to tell the tale, but observe subsequent Good Fridays.