For Cuban-Americans, a somber Sunday Mass at national shrine

COCONUT GROVE, FLA. (WSVN) - - Sunday services offered a moment of reflection for Cuban-Americans in South Florida, in the wake of Fidel Castro’s death.

“As a Christian that’s the only thing that you can have faith in, and hope that the evil passes and there’s a bright future,” said Elizabeth Baltodano, a parishioner of Cuban descent.

It was a historic Sunday for Elizabeth and Allen Baltodano, who brought their four girls to the church her grandmother considered home, after escaping Fidel Castro’s oppression.

“I was actually explaining to the girls the reason why we’re coming here today,” said Baltodano. “My grandmother used to come here to pray, and unite the family and hopefully see a free Cuba.”

La Ermita De Caridad, the national shrine of the Cuban exiles has stood as a refuge and symbol of unity for more than 50 years. This Sunday, though, mass held a new meaning.

“This is the first Sunday of advent, and advent is the beginning of the celebration of the birth of our lord Jesus Christ,” said Father Fernando Heria of La Ermita de Caridad, “and for us Cubans this is also, I think, God talking to us. The darkness of Cuba is dead. A chapter has been closed.”

The congregation sang and prayed together with a renewed hope in their heart, that the death of a dictator will mean change for their country.

“We now can begin a new country, a beautiful country with free commerce and liberty,” said Cuban exile, Raul Lopez.

Parishioners made their way to La Ermita with their Cuban flags flying and flowers in hand.

“Thanks God that everything is going to change now, I think,” said Augustine Fernandez.

Although Elizabeth Baltodano’s grandmother did not live to see this day, her granddaughter said her years of prayers are being answered for her children’s generation.

“We always talk about hopefully going back to see a free Cuba,” said Baltodano. “That’s been our dream.”

Many in the Cuban exile community thought they would never see this day, but now have hope for the new generation.

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