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Catholic Cubans in Miami reflect on death of Castro

Members of the Cuban community dance in the street as they react to the death of Fidel Castro (AP)

Celebration turned to somber reflection and church services Sunday as Cuban-Americans in Miami largely stayed off the streets following a raucous daylong party in which thousands marked the death of Fidel Castro.

At St Brendan Catholic Church in the Miami suburb of Westchester, a member of the chorus read a statement by Archbishop Thomas Wenski about Castro’s death before the service. There was no overt mention of Castro during the Sunday Mass. But during the reading of the Prayers of the Faithful, one of the two priests celebrating the Mass prayed for “an end to communism, especially in Cuba and Venezuela.”

“Lord, hear our prayers,” churchgoers responded.

Outside the church, Nelson Frau, a 32-year-old Cuban-American whose parents fled the island in 1962, said he wasn’t surprised that Castro was not mentioned. He said Archbishop Wenski’s statement reflected the role of the Catholic Church in Miami as a mediator toward peace between the Cubans in Miami and those on the island.

“I think the Church is trying to act as a mediator at this point, to try to move the Cuban people forward rather than backward, not only the exile community here, but also the Cuban people on the island,” said Frau, who works in customer service.

Frau said celebrations of Castro’s death on the streets of Miami were a “natural reaction.”

“Let’s not forget that this is an exile community that has suffered a lot, over 50 years,” Frau said. “He’s an image of pain to a lot of people. It’s a celebration not of his death, but a celebration of the end of this image of pain and suffering.”

The pot-banging, car horn-honking, flag-waving throngs were much thinner in Little Havana and other Cuban-American neighbourhoods on Sunday. People quietly sipped their morning coffee outside the Versailles restaurant — which had put up signs in Spanish calling itself the “House of the Exiles” — where many of the demonstrations have been centred along Calle Ocho, or 8th Street.

Later on Sunday afternoon, people gathered anew outside the restaurant, forcing police to close the street down again as a chanting group carried a large Cuban flag. One group of Cuban exiles held a news conference at the Bay of Pigs museum, which commemorates the failed CIA-backed invasion in 1961. They called for a large rally Wednesday afternoon in Little Havana.

Meanwhile, Rev Martin Anorga, 89, was a pastor at a Presbyterian church in Cuba, starting when he was in his 20s. He fled Cuba, and later served as head pastor of the First Spanish Presbyterian Church in Miami for nearly three decades before retiring.

Rev Anorga said he participated in anti-Castro groups in Miami for years. But in church services, he only would talk about the victims of Castro’s regime, not the man himself.

“During services, they won’t talk about politics,” he said. “When I was a pastor, we would pray for the victims of Castro in Cuba. The people who were hurt by Castro will never recover. Families were separated, estranged. We would pray for them.”