After a year of health and economic hardship, tens of thousands of Cubans made a pilgrimage to the shrine of San Lázaro on Thursday to demand health and economic well-being from the island’s most revered saint.
“We ask him to bless us in our health (…) and in our spiritual development, and give us prosperity and encouragement to continue to fight and survive,” Yuan Alfonso, who arrived with his wife in the Rincon reserve, told AFP. .. as the Cubans know it, by the name of the city in which it is located, about 30 km from the capital.
The 46-year-old private taxi driver managed to beat the virus, but it still had consequences. And he adds: “I suffer from shortness of breath and pain in my bones (…), but here I satiate the old man, because thanks to him we are alive.”
For the second year in a row, the coronavirus has not prevented Cubans of different ages and creeds from venerating those whom Catholics introduce to San Lázaro Obispo and Santeria with Papale Aye, but it has forced the authorities to organize mass outside the sanctuary.
Under heavy police presence, many in the five-kilometre march from the town of Santiago de Las Vegas to the small hermitage, dressed in jute or purple clothing, advanced. Dozens of believers were martyred along the way crawling, kneeling, barefoot, carrying stones, carrying candles, offerings and flowers.
– There will be no more deaths –
Old Simon crawled the three miles distance on his back. During the last 100 metres, he was helped several times by members of the Red Cross. He paid for his promise, but ended up exhausted, with spasms all over his body, and had to be treated by the doctors.
An hour after he reached the temple, he was still unable to walk or speak. Crying, he whispers that he has promised his wife’s health.
Some believers come to the shrine, visited by Pope John Paul II on his historic trip in January 1998, from the country’s most remote areas.
Lazara Elvi, a 53-year-old housewife, traveled from the province of Camaguey, 530 kilometers east of Havana. “We have to plead with him a lot so that next year everything will be peace and quiet, the disease (Covid-19) will improve and there will not be as many deaths as this year,” says the woman behind a mask.
Cuba, with a population of 11.2 million, managed through its three antiviral vaccines, not yet recognized by the World Health Organization, to control and overcome the most dangerous moment of the epidemic recorded between July and September. It has accumulated 963,885 infections and 8,313 deaths.
To Saint Lazarus, represented by a beggar with a rag and crutches, a beard and blisters on his skin, licked by two dogs, believers attribute healing properties to diseases such as leprosy, smallpox, stomach problems, ulcers, gangrene and amputations.
– Improvement –
Last December 17, the Cubans also asked “Old Lazarus”, as they affectionately call him, to improve the country’s economic situation, which was one of the causes of the historic demonstrations last July.
“We had a difficult year, with a lack of food and medicine. So we must also ask for economic well-being,” says Solomon Hernandez, who came to the temple from Cárdenas, 150 kilometers east of Havana.
Cuba is experiencing its worst economic crisis in 27 years, with GDP falling by 11% in 2020 due to the pandemic and the nearly 60-year-old embargo by the United States, reinforced by the administration of Republican Donald Trump with 243 penalties, and whose successor, Joe Biden, remains As is.
Percussionist Alejandro Cardenas, 38, and a group of friends walked barefoot for seven kilometers to reach the sanctuary. “What we need is that San Lázaro takes great care of our health and our economy,” he says with a smile.
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