by Sue Ann Rybak
Rev. David Cassie, 80, a Presbyterian minister and scholar who lives at Cathedral Village in upper Roxborough, is working to preserve the history of the Presbyterian Church in Cuba.
“When I saw those fading photos, artifacts and documents fast disintegrating in the Museum of Reformation in Cardenas, Cuba, at the Juan Hall Presbyterian Church, I felt called to help the Cuban Reformed Presbyterian Church remember its own history of courage — how the church survived under a regime that considered the Christian religion an enemy of the state,” said Cassie, who graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary with a Masters of Theology.
Later while at a conference at Yale University, he discovered that the divinity school gives grants to help preserve overseas documents that chronicle the history of Christianity around the world. Cassie applied for the grant and received funds on behalf of the Presbyterian Church in Cuba.
“Preserving the archives of Iglesia Presbiteriana Reformada de Cuba (IPRC) allows us to study how Jesus’ message of God’s love and justice moves with authenticity across linguistic and cultural boundaries,” he said. “The archives represent the foundation of the future. They are the raw materials of a church committed to continuing reformation.”
Cassie said the archival materials reveal that although “Cubans were grateful to their North American Presbyterian brothers and sisters for helping them establish a progressive reformation church, they made the church authentically Cuban. What is unusual about faith in Christ is that he gets incarnated in every cultural and linguistic framework.
“Those archives alone tell the story how Cuban Presbyterians entered the vanguard of progressive thinking in Cuba,” he said. “Their idealism initially helped Castro in his quest for revolutionary change in Cuba — until Cubans discovered that they had been tricked.”
Cassie, who also studied Eastern Orthodox liturgy at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, said under Castro’s government hundreds of pastors, priests, reverends and other men and women of faith were expelled, imprisoned, tortured or executed. He said the Church and the U.S. should not forget how Cubans suffered under Fidel Castro’s rule.
Cassie added that the archives will also allow scholars to discover how Cuban “Christians came to discern the values of an authentic social revolution while attempting to preserve at great cost a higher concept of human dignity and freedom than could be found in communism.” But Cassie observed that those who stayed in Cuba during and after the revolution did their best to make it work. The archives may help future scholars appreciate how both those who left Cuba and those who remained shared and still share the same immense dignity and passionate love of country.
Thanks to Cassie’s efforts, The Reformed Presbyterian Church of Cuba’s Historic Archive represents about 50,000 pages on the world wide web, according to Cassie. The archives are available to scholars of Latin American and Caribbean history through university licensing agreements with the Brill Publishing Co. in the Netherlands.
In addition to Cassie’s work in Cuba, he and his wife, Dhyan, who has her doctorate in audiology, served as missionaries in Honduras and Mexico. He said even as young child growing up in a Reformed Church in Brooklyn, N.Y., he felt called to spread “Jesus’ message of a compassionate God who works for justice for the poor and the oppressed.”
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