It just might have been the power of the three women bishops on the Los Angeles Dodger Stadium field Aug. 30 that helped propel the home team to a 9-2 win over the San Diego Padres.
Tossing out the first pitch to mark the annual Episcopal Night at Dodger Stadium was Bishop Griselda Delgado Del Carpio of Cuba, who was visiting Los Angeles. Bishops Suffragan Mary Glasspool was the catcher and Diane Jardine Bruce the umpire. It was a joyous occasion for the three bishops, who first met in 2010 at the College for Bishops, which provides opportunities for education and formation for both active and retired bishops.
“There was a lot of positive energy on the field as Bishop Griselda pitched the opening ball to Bishop Glasspool. While it bounced a bit before it actually reached home plate, after a secondary inner deliberation, I called it a strike,” Bruce quipped after the game.
Especially exciting for Delgado and her husband Gerardo Logildes Coroas was a chance encounter in the clubhouse with an icon of Dodger baseball.
“Meeting [retired Dodger manager] Tommy Lasorda was a great treat, especially as he had played baseball in Cuba,” said Bruce. “He spoke with the bishop and her husband in Spanish about his time there. Bishop Griselda and her husband love baseball — baseball is a much-loved sport in Cuba.”
Added to the excitement was witnessing their own hometown hero, Yasiel Puig, also known as “the Cuban Phenom,” who joined the Dodgers in 2012. Puig didn’t disappoint: his four hits and two stolen bases contributed to the Dodgers’ win.
“It was a dream come true for them,” Bruce added. “And, as Gerardo said to me, ‘there are no words to express our gratitude for being able to be here!’”
It was a light-hearted moment in a busy calendar for Delgado, who was also scheduled to visit the Diocese of Wyoming. A day earlier, she met with a gathering of about 75 clergy and laypersons at the Cathedral Center of Los Angeles and described the Iglesia Episcopal de Cuba’s exciting new initiative — building a camp for children.
Speaking through translator Marilyn Peterson of the Diocese of Florida, Delgado drew hearty applause as she described dreams for building the camp, to be named in honor of the Rt. Rev. Alexander Hugo Blankingship, who served as diocesan bishop of Cuba from 1939 until his retirement in 1961.
“He was the last American bishop of Cuba,” she told the gathering. Before he retired, Blankingship purchased about ten acres of land on behalf of the diocese, which encompasses some 6,000 Episcopalians in 44 congregations and institutions, according to Delgado.
“The church was able to maintain the property during communism,” she told the gathering. “The land is in the middle of Cuba with a little river running through it, and it is our dream to start a camp there for the children and for the Episcopal brothers and sisters,” she said.
Delgado said, through the interpreter, that laws are being relaxed regarding property ownership in her country, and that she has confirmed that the Episcopal Church holds the deed for the land. Authorities have paved the way for work to begin on the camp, to fulfill Blankingship’s dream.
The camp will augment the church’s goal of reaching out “to bring the Gospel and the Spirit of God to the young” as well as to working people, she added.
Delgado described some of the cultural forces that stymied the church for many years and how those influences are abating.
“In the beginning, when the revolution came along, a lot of priests and people of Christian thought, including Episcopalians, left the country and … the people who were left behind were at least praying that they could keep the light of Christ and the light of the church alive through the years. That was their hope,” she said.
The Cuban revolution ousted then-President Fulgencio Batista in 1959, when Fidel Castro assumed power. His government reorganized along the lines of the Communist Party in 1965.
Then, Christian churches were regarded as “superstitious or unenlightened … and most people did not want to be known as ignorant, or having a superstitious way of thinking,” Delgado told the gathering.
Yet the culture is changing with the times; both church membership and ecumenism are growing, and “the government has been opening up more dialogue with the churches, in terms of richness and content,” she added.
Church and state relations improve
Applause erupted throughout the gathering as Delgado, through the interpreter, added that even current President Raúl Castro, who assumed leadership from his brother Fidel in 2008, “has been to the cathedral in Havana four times now and has been listening to my sermons and has had interaction with our Episcopal Church.
“These are at ecumenical events that are taking place, not just Episcopal Church events but the venue has been at the cathedral,” added Coroas, Delgado’s husband, through the interpreter.
Ecumenism is also expressed through collaboration regarding social, health and other issues and Delgado, who was appointed bishop in 2010, said that in spite of theological differences over women’s ordination, she and officials of the Catholic church, the majority Christian denomination, have maintained a healthy mutual respect.
“I have had occasions to meet with the Catholic cardinal in Cuba” she said, adding that she regarded it as a great sign of respect when at one such meeting the cardinal called her “Senora Obispa” (Mrs. Bishop).
Another sign of their mutual regard, she said, was a special invitation to her from the Vatican during a papal visit in March 2012. “I was seated just about eight seats down from the president, in the front row during a mass attended by over one million people in the Revolutionary Square in Havana,” she said.
She offered a brief history of the Episcopal Church in Cuba, which dates to the middle 1800s and which eventually became an American missionary district, she said.
After the revolution, however, it became an extra-provincial diocese, governed by a metropolitan council composed of the archbishop of the Anglican Church of Canada, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church and the Archbishop of the Church in the Province of the West Indies.
That structure continues. In 2007 the council appointed Canon Nerva Cot Aguilera and Ulises Mario Aguero Prendes as bishops suffragan under the direction of an interim bishop, the Rt. Rev. Miguel Tamayo Zaldivar of Uruguay. Aguilera, who died suddenly in 2010, was the first woman bishop in Latin America.
In January 2010 the Metropolitan Council appointed Delgado as bishop coadjutor; she was installed as diocesan bishop in November of that year. She is the first woman to hold that position.
In response to a question about the status of gays and lesbians in Cuba, as well as those living with AIDS, she said that the laws in Cuba have changed and that attitudes are also changing.
While acknowledging that societal change can be a slow process, Delgado said the church has always been clear that “we give dignity and respect to human beings and in this regard, the church will continue to respect the dignity of each person.”
“The task of the church is to be able to balance these different competing things and attitudes that come along at different times and different ways in different cultures. It’s a balancing act and involves educating people, and pastoral efforts and it is one of the tasks that faces the church in Cuba.”
She also noted that the church is busily empowering leadership—both lay and ordained. Delgado’s spouse is currently a seminarian and in the process for ordination.
She noted that there are 25 clergy, including four women, who are responsible for some 44 congregations, as well as about 26 lay people involved in Christian education and six students in residential seminaries.
Yet, despite its challenges, positive change is also happening and she declared to the gathering, “The Gospel is alive and well in Cuba.”