Miami-Dade County

For South Florida Santeria leaders, U.S.-Cuba reset opens door for dialogue

Santeria followers listen as religious leaders, or babalawos, present ‘la letra,’ or letter — a set of predictions and advice guiding worshipers for the new year, at the Ramada Hotel in Hialeah on Friday, Jan. 2, 2015.
Santeria followers listen as religious leaders, or babalawos, present ‘la letra,’ or letter — a set of predictions and advice guiding worshipers for the new year, at the Ramada Hotel in Hialeah on Friday, Jan. 2, 2015. EL NUEVO HERALD

Santeria church leaders in South Florida may be able to have official contacts and exchanges with similar churches in Cuba thanks to President Barack Obama’s order to restore relations with the communist island, Ernesto Pichardo, the president of the Lukumí Babalú Ayé church, said in Hialeah on Friday.

“The change in policy toward Cuba announced by President Obama allows us, for the first time, as a minority religion, to assume the same privileges that have been extended to Catholic, Presbyterian and other religions that exist in Cuba, where they have been able to visit parishioners and churches there and have exchanges of church leaders and faithful,” Pichardo told el Nuevo Herald.

The interview took place after a long presentation by Pichardo and other Santeria religious leaders in South Florida in which they spoke of strengthening relationships with Santeria churches in Cuba. They also detailed tips for the new year , part of an annual ritual known as a letra — or letter — which are a collection of predictions and advice by which the faithful should govern themselves.

This year the letter is Ogbe Sa.

Pichardo said Ogbe Sa seeks to correct past “destructive mistakes” and purify the body of toxic substances and psychological chaos.

Santeria is a religion that grew out of the beliefs of Yoruba slaves from West Africa who were brought to Cuba and other Caribbean islands. Santeria includes a mixture of Yoruba beliefs and elements of other religions including the Catholic Church.

The Lukumí Babalú Ayé church was founded in 1974.

In 1993, Lukumí Babalú Ayé made headlines when it won a landmark Supreme Court ruling affording it legal recognition.

Gradually the church flourished, and in October, it officially entered into an agreement with Kola Ifa, the religion’s most prominent church in Miami.

On Friday, Pichardo extended his wish for unification by talking about future plans through which Santeria church leaders in Miami and Havana open a new era of cooperation and exchanges. “Our priests, our religious followers in Cuba have never had this privilege,” Pichardo said, referring to an absence of religious exchanges involving followers and church leaders in Miami and Havana. “Now we can, as a church, certify priests in Cuba,” Pichardo said. “And through religious exchanges we can go there and they can come here.”

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