AP PHOTOS: Spirituality means many things in syncretic Cuba

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AP PHOTOS: Spirituality means many things in syncretic Cuba
In this Sept. 7, 2015 photo, a follower of the Yoruba religion holds up a doll representing the Yoruba sea goddess "Yemaya" before the start of a procession on the feast day of the Virgin of Regla, in Regla, a town just across the bay from Havana, Cuba. Celebrations honoring "Yemaya" and the Catholic virgin fall on the same day. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
In this Sept. 8, 2015 photo, people watch a procession on the feat day of Cuba's patron saint, the Virgin of Charity, in Havana, Cuba. In Cuba, the Catholic Virgin of Charity is associated with the Yoruba orisha "Ochun." (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
In this Sept. 6, 2015 photo, a decal promoting Pope Francis' upcoming visit covers the back of a tricycle taxi, alongside an ad for a photographer specializing in "quinceaneras," a teenage girl's 15th birthday, in Havana, Cuba. The pope arrives to the island on Saturday, Sept. 19. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
This Sept. 7, 2015 photo shows key chains for sale, featuring religious icons alongside symbols of national pride, like revolutionary hero Ernesto "Che" Guevara, during a religious celebration marking the feast day of the Virgin of La Regla, in Regla, a town just across the bay from Havana, Cuba. Along with Catholics and believers in Afro-Cuban faiths, there are Jews, Muslims, Protestants and Buddhists on the island hat for decades had been an atheist state. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
This Sept. 10, 2015 photo shows religious icons, including an Afro-Cuban warrior spirit, left, the Virgin Mary, top center, and a Buddha on an altar at the home of Yoruba followers Dagoberto Molina and his wife Elvira Abad in Havana, Cuba. The blue fish at right is a receptacle to hold religious objects. Spirituality is expressed in many ways in Cuba, where different creeds and religious practices are widely accepted, even when they are mixed together. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
In this Sept. 10, 2015 photo, artisan Elvira Abad makes a doll for a follower of the Yoruba religion inside her home's workshop in Havana, Cuba. The doll will represent the sea goddess "Yemaya" as well as the Virgin of Regla, who share the same feast day in Cuba. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
In this Sept. 6, 2015 photo, a Cuban souvenir Kippah is displayed for sale at the Adath Israel synagogue in Old Havana, Cuba. The ruling Communist Party in 1991 began allowing religious believers to become members, and in 1992 the Constitution was amended to remove the reference to atheism. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
This Sept. 7, 2015 photo shows Miguel Suarez, whose chest is covered by a tattoo of the Virgin of Regla next to Cuba's revolutionary hero Ernesto "Che" Guevara, during a Catholic feast day procession for the Virgin of Regla, in Regla, a town just across the bay from Havana, Cuba. Cuba's religious syncretism has been on display in the weeks leading up the Pope Francis' arrival on the island on Saturday, Sept. 19 with processions that brought out crowds to honor two locally popular Catholic saints on their feast days: the Virgin of Regla and the Virgin of Charity. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
In this Sept. 7, 2015 photo, a crowd watches a Catholic feast day procession in honor of the Virgin of Regla, in Regla, a town just across the bay from Havana, Cuba. While this version of the Virgin Mary is recognized by the Catholic Church, she is also adored by practitioners of Afro-Cuba beliefs, who associate her with the Yoruba sea goddess "Yemaya." (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
In this Sept. 8, 2015 photo, a doll that represents the spirit of "“Ochun"” sits on the banks of Almendares River as Marisa Ramirez Gutierrez stands still for her Godmother Raisa Valdivia Hernandez, right, and Godfather Daniel Llano Zulueta who conduct her cleansing ceremony, symbolic of rebirth, as she starts a one-year journey to become a Yoruba priestess, known as "Iyawo," or bride, in Havana, Cuba. This ceremony is just one of many for Ramirez. Others include standing on a throne wearing a crown and yellow robe, sitting for one day with a pregnant woman who represents birth, private rituals with Yoruba priests, a celebratory dinner party with family and friends, praying to the Virign of Charity and leaving herbal offerings at a local market. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
In this Sept. 8, 2015 photo, a girl dressed as an angel attends Catholic feast day celebrations for Cuba's patron saint, the Virgin of Charity, in Havana, Cuba. In Cuba, the Virgin of Charity is associated with the Yoruba orisha "Ochun." (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
In this Sept. 6, 2015 photo, representatives of the Jewish, Islamic and Christian faiths wait for the start of a multi-religious gathering in Havana, Cuba. Members of their religions, as well as Buddhism, meet once a year in San Franciso de Asis plaza for a ceremonty to promote world peace. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
In this Sept. 9, 2015 photo, Yoruba follower Francisco Lemus looks out to sea as Adela Zamora, popularly known as Santera Chuchita, holds a coconut over his head during a cleansing ceremony to help him improve his health in Bahia Honda, Cuba. After moving the coconut from head to toe, Zamora broke the seed open on the ground for insight on how Lemus should proceed to improve his health, based on how the coconut shell broke open. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
In this Sept. 7, 2015 photo, workers hang a crucifix on the wall next to the Catholic church of the Virgin of Regla, before a procession on her feast day in Regla, a town across the bay from Havana, Cuba. Along with Catholics, there are followers of Afro-Cuban faiths, Jews, Muslims, Protestants and Buddhists in the country that for decades had been an atheist state. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
In this Sept. 6, 2015 photo, Archbishop Giorgio Lingua, Cuba's apostolic nuncio, looks out at his parishioners after celebrating Mass at St. Francis of Assisi church in Havana, Cuba. Spirituality is expressed in many ways in Cuba, where different creeds and religious practices are widely accepted, even when they are mixed together. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
In this Sept. 11, 2015 photo, Marisa Ramirez Gutierrez, standing center, holds still on her symbolic throne dressed in the robe of the the "Iyawo," or bride, alongside a pregnant woman, right, who represents birth, and her mother, who represents a woman who has already given birth, inside her home as part of many initiation ceremonies marking the start of her one-year journey to become a Yoruba priestess in Havana, Cuba. Ramirez's other initiation rituals include a dip in a river that symbolizes rebirth, sitting for one day with a pregnant woman who represents birth, private rituals with Yoruba priests, a celebratory dinner party with family and friends, praying to the Virgin of Charity and leaving herbal offerings at a local market. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
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HAVANA (AP) -- Raisa Valdivia Hernandez is a passionate Catholic who regularly attends Mass. But she is also a "santera," a practitioner of the Yoruba faith that slaves brought to Cuba from their native Africa centuries ago.

There are many people on the island like Valdivia, who meld aspects of Christian and Afro-Cuban beliefs into a syncretic faith known here as santeria.

Valdivia was disappointed recently when she wanted to use the Catholic church in Rincon, just outside Havana, to baptize a doll in an Afro-Cuban religious ceremony. The local priest sent her away, saying that the church wasn't the place for such a ritual. But he told her she could take some holy water to do the baptism herself at home because "God is everywhere."

Cuba's religious syncretism has been on display in the weeks leading up the Pope Francis' arrival on the island on Saturday with processions that brought out crowds to honor two locally popular Catholic saints on their feast days: the Virgin of Regla and the Virgin of Charity.

While both versions of the Virgin Mary are recognized by the Catholic Church, they are also adored by practitioners of Afro-Cuba beliefs, who associate them with certain "orishas," or deities. Our Lady of Regla is associated with Yemaya, the Yoruba goddess of the sea, and Our Lady of Charity is linked with the deity Ochun.

Thus, spirituality is expressed in many ways in Cuba, where different creeds and religious practices are widely accepted, even when they are mixed together.

Along with Catholics and believers in Afro-Cuban faiths, there are Jews, Muslims, Protestants and Buddhists in the country that for decades had been an atheist state. The ruling Communist Party in 1991 began allowing religious believers to become members, and in 1992 the Constitution was amended to remove the reference to atheism.

Now, diverse beliefs can be found mixed together on altars in homes, with the Virgin Mary sharing space with a ceramic Buddha and a warrior spirit from the Afro-Cuban faith.

Plastic key chains sold as souvenirs feature classic Catholic images such as the Guardian Angel, the Holy Child of Atocha, St. Lazarus and the Virgin of Mercy alongside images of revolutionary hero Ernesto "Che" Guevara and the Cuban flag in the shape of a heart. A decal announcing the upcoming visit by Pope Francis is glued to the back of a bicycle taxi next to an image of a teenage girl in a ball gown advertising Sweet 15 parties.

Valdivia shares her Afro-Cuban faith with others, recently serving as godmother to 51-year-old Marisa Gutierrez Ramirez, who will study and go through a series of rituals over the next year to become a Yoruba priestess.

She led Gutierrez through initiation rites that included a cleansing ceremony in Havana's Almendares River and the donning of golden robes and a crown upon a symbolic throne.

The ceremonies also included prayers in a Catholic church dedicated to the Virgin of Charity.

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