Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Operator offers tours of Catholic Cuba

While restrictions on Americans traveling to Cuba have eased somewhat since President Obama unveiled a plan to reestablish relations with Cuba in 2014, travel must still be under the umbrella of “people-to-people” activities. In keeping with that approach, tour operator Regina Tours will host tours in 2017 focusing on the facets of Catholicism on the island nation and many Catholics who live or have lived there.

Founded in 1985, Regina Tours is dedicated to the Catholic faith with a stated mission of “[B]uilding up the kingdom of God through pilgrimages” to the Holy Land, visits to various shrines, and tours tracing the footsteps of many of the religion’s saints. The eight-day Catholicism in Cuba tours will provide travelers an overview of what is the island’s largest organized religion.

The Cuban Flag, the flag of Cuba
The flag of Cuba
Cuba is divided into eleven dioceses, including three archdioceses. The tours, aboard the 1,200-passenger Celestyal Crystal, will take takes travelers from Montego Bay, Jamaica, to Santiago de Cuba, Havana, Punta Frances, and Cienfuegos to discover Catholic-Cuban history and culture.

On the first full day of land excursions, travelers explore Santiago de Cuba, the island’s center for Afro-Cuban culture and a key to Cuba’s unique personality, and will make a pilgrimage to the shrine of “Our Lady of Charity.”

Also known as “Our Lady of Cobre,” the national shrine of Cuba was declared the patroness of Cuba by Pope Benedict XV in 1916 and was crowned in 1936. Pope Paul VI elevated her sanctuary to the category of Basilica in 1977. On January 24, 1998, Saint John Paul II crowned the image a second time as queen and patron saint of Cuba. Both Pope Benedict and Pope Francis have visited the shrine.

The group will attend Mass at the shrine, then visit the Cathedral of Santiago where St. Anthony Mary Claret C.M.F. was archbishop of Santiago de Cuba from 1850-1857. According to Catholic teachings, he had the gift of prophecy and performed many miracles. He is also the Patron Saint of textile merchants.

Tour group visiting Cuba
Photo provided by Regina Tours
The next day, the group will take a guided walk through Havana’s Old City area with an emphasis on its art deco buildings, institutions, American cars from the 1950s and community-based projects of particular significance to those of the Catholic faith.

The group will visit the Felix Varela Cultural Center, which is a former seminary, for a conversation with lay and clergy regarding the religious and cultural work of the Center. Tour members will also celebrate Mass at the Cathedral and attend a Concert at the Convento de San Francisco de Asis.

Following the visit to Havana, the cruise will stop in Punta Franc├ęs Marine National Park on the Isla de la Juventud, or “Isle of Youth.” Guests will spend a day exploring the island's nature, beaches, and ecology.

In Cienfuegos, the group will visit the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, where they will celebrate Mass and meet local parishioners.

Tours begin on Fridays, with guests flying to Sangster International Airport (MBJ) in Montego Bay, Jamaica. After arrival, they will board a bus and transfer to the seaport to board the ship. Following their Saturday visit to Santiago de Cuba, travelers will have all day Sunday at sea when they will attend Mass, then relax or take part in a number of ship-board activities including learning about Cuban cigars, the country’s unconventional musical instruments, learn about the history of rum, learn the cha cha, and mingle with Cuban staff members.

Catholicism in Cuba prices start at $3,198 and include round trip air transportation from New York and other selected cities to Montego Bay, seven nights accommodation on Celestyal Crystal, port charges, all daily meals, the services of professional tour guides while touring on land, deluxe motor coach transportation, visits with church leadership, all entrance fees per itinerary, gratuities for cruise staff, and Cuba medical insurance.

Regina Tours will operate 10 Catholicism in Cuba tours during 2017, though at this writing, three are already sold out. More information is available at http://regina-tours.com/catholicism-cuba.

Although unrestricted tourism by Americans is still not permitted, American citizens are permitted to travel to Cuba if they fall into one or more of 12 approved categories.

The U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control allows travel for family visits; official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations; journalistic activity; professional research and professional meetings; educational activities; religious activities; public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions; support for the Cuban people; humanitarian projects; activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials; and certain authorized export transactions.

While travelers no longer have to apply for and receive permission, they must still self-certify that they fall into one of the categories covered under the "general license" issued by the Treasury Department.

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