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The Cuban Quaker Institute for Peace

By Stephen Angell

The Cuban Quaker Institute for Peace (in Spanish, Instituto Cubano Cuáquero de Paz, or ICCP) held its inaugural session in January. An interesting array of classes was offered: Benigno Sanchez-Eppler introduced Cuban Friends to John Woolman’s “Journal,” which he and others had translated into Spanish for the first time; Kirenia Criado, pastor of the Havana programmed Quaker meeting and a staff person at the Center for Martin Luther King, also in Havana, presented the course, “Conflict Transformation”; two colleagues presented a group process course and I presented courses on
Quaker history and literature and Quaker process.

These classes were very well attended. Nearly all of the Cuban Quaker pastors and missionaries were in attendance. Even retired pastor Heredio Santos took the classes! Many students took all five classes offered in the two week session.

Their thirst for knowledge was remarkable. There is much less literature about Quakerism in Spanish, so any new information is eagerly devoured. The students enjoyed weighing the pros and cons of Quietism and Revivalism. They debated whether Quaker origins owe more to Puritans or to Spiritualists.

Another session of the institute is scheduled for May. At that time my colleague David Johns is scheduled to present one course on doing theology in a Quaker manner and another considering the similarities between Quakers, Pentecostals and Charismatic Christians. Ramon Gonzalez Longoria Escalona, director of the institute, may teach a course on the history of Quakers in Cuba since their founding in 1900. It is a fascinating story, and Ramon is well equipped to tell it.

Cuban Quakers plan to make these courses available to many other Cubans, whether Quaker or not, and to other persons throughout Latin America, indeed to anyone interested in knowing more about Quakerism and peace studies. In nearby Holguin a building to house the institute is almost complete. Cuban Friends are currently conducting a fundraising campaign. They can make donation dollars go a long way.

Jorge Luis Peña Reyes, director of the institute’s executive council, stated in an eloquent speech given at the Institute’s inaugural ceremony that three goals of the institute are “identity, information and inclusion.”

“Without identity,” he stated, “we would be talking puppets in a dark corner of a theatre; without information, we would be broken vessels, unable to hold or give water, useless vessels in spite of the place we might occupy; without inclusion in society, we would suffer the confusion of those who tried to build the tower of Babel. In a blind intention to reach God, we would forget the neighbors with whom barriers to communication had been formed.”

Both a definable identity and inclusion have been crucial for the success of the Quaker church in Cuba, Reyes continued, pointing out that, “With its beginnings in England in the seventeenth century, with recognizable marks of the culture of the US, and with a message which was brought to Cuba in the beginning of the twentieth century along with the well-known relations between a
colony and an imperial power, the Quaker church creates and recreates an identity beginning from this mixture and takes on common elements of the evangelical tradition with its doctrine, music,
and customs. With concrete efforts for unity, and a clear distinction between union and blending, the Friends move forward with the motive of contributing from an inclusive perspective, which this church has discerned as its mission.”

Urging his audience to be “worthy of the Rabbi of Galilee,” Reyes observed that “Jesus brought the law of love, all the information humanity needs.” He also reminded us that Jesus calls us all to be peacemakers: “Jesus invites us to another way to sow peace, not the way the world gives it. ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.’” (John 14:27)

It is truly to be celebrated that Quakers have brought another nursery for loving peacemakers into the world. Pray for a long, rich, and useful life for the Cuban Quaker Institute for Peace.