KARLEY FENJUEL is a 40-year-old father of two children—a boy, Erisdany, who is 9; and a girl, Sarisdany, who is 14. Their mother’s name is Lisandra, who is 33. They live in the small village of Miller, in the center of Cuba, in a small house that he has gradually been expanding. A former problem-drinker and educated at a time when God had no place in Cuba, he recently got baptized. Here is his story:
“I grew up and still live in Miller, a few miles from Placetas, where the Parish church is. I am a true farmer. I have always worked the earth and today I own a finca, a farm, where I grow manioc for the government. I also manage about 60 hogs in the courtyard behind my house. These two activities are exhausting, but to earn a bit more money, I sometimes also help my wife’s father who produces 100 percent handmade saddles in a small workshop next to my house.
“My family was not religious. Although I grew up trusting in the existence of God, my parents never brought me to any church. I was not baptized. Indeed, at that time in Cuba, when you were seen going to Mass of attending a Church event, you no longer had access to jobs in government-run companies—and the communist government owned all of the companies! It also made it harder to attend university, and for years people used to even threw tomatoes at churchgoers. Thus, many people left the Church and stopped going to the Mass.
“My mother-in-law started to bring my then-six-year-old daughter to the activities of the Catholic Church in Miller. But my wife’s mother got sick, so my wife had to accompany my daughter to the church where she became one of the claritas, servants of the assembly. And my wife once told me: ‘Karley, what I hear in the catechism classes sounds very appealing to me; maybe we should go to the class for adults.” So we started to go to Mass and to catechism courses.
“At that time, all I had was my family, my farm and my hogs, and I was fine with that. But deep inside, there was an empty space that only the love of God could fill. And during all my first steps as a Christian, I had the good fortune never to be judged by my family or friends, although most of them are not Catholics.
“Eventually, after two years of preparation, my wife and I got baptized together during Easter Night 2017 and we were confirmed by the bishop of Santa Clara in November 2017. We also got married in the Catholic way.
“Living this journey with my wife has strengthened our family; it added a new dimension to our life. Like many of my friends in Miller, I had started to drink quite young, above all because I had nothing to do besides my job. Jesus helped me leave the bottle to get closer to the chalice. In short, that knowing that God loves me helps me love my wife and my children more.
“I am not afraid to say it: Jesus changed my life. I surely wasn’t a bad man before. But working and raising my children under the gaze of God has changed the purpose of all that I do.
“At the end of 2017, Hurricane Irma struck the island. It devastated all my crops and the roof of my house. Before my conversion, I would have been very upset. But with the help of God, I was able to rebuild everything and, in the end, this year has been a good one in terms of business. I even managed to build a kitchen in my house, whereas before my wife had to cook in a small falling-down wooden house a few yards from the house. I thank God for all He has done for me and my family.
“Now, we take part in many of the activities of the Church. My wife helps to cook the free meals given to the poorest among us. I plan to get involved in construction projects and to help by giving food (mainly meat!) for big events organized by the parish. My dream is to bring my brother to the Church, so that he may come to understand what I have been through—that he too lets God change his life.
“There is so much to do for the Church in Cuba. It basically wasn’t allowed do anything from 1959 to the mid 90’s and there is still a lot of wounds from these nearly 40 years of persecution. But I am convinced that, with the prayers of our brothers and sisters in Cuba and from around the world, God will build the strong Church that the Cuban people need.”
Thomas Nivard writes for Aid to the Church in Need, an international papal charity providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries.