“Pray to Castro for Candy”

“Pray to Castro for Candy” May 31, 2024

Pray to Castro for Candy”

Many years ago, when I first started college, I met a gal who was maybe ten years older than me. She and her mother and father had come from Cuba as refugees. Later, came three little brothers into the family. They were all full of life and love as a family transplanted from Castro’s Cuba. Once, while we were having a Cuban chicken and rice meal, I asked, “Why did you leave Cuba? The raucous table ground to a silent halt, and the mother said, “We left because of Castro and candy.” My friend excused herself from the table, and one of her brothers went to check on her while the mother continued.

You see, when my daughter was tiny, in kindergarten or first grade, Fidel Castro was just coming into power. But the regular families of Cuba weren’t following him yet. The young radicals, yes. They were already converted. But those with families and those that were trying to make a living… well, we weren’t convinced yet.

Castro tried to win over the children of the families with fiestas and give them toys and things. But as the parents would talk in the parks and the plazas, the children would listen. They learned not to trust what Castro was trying to do. They knew he was trying to take over their freedoms, and they knew their mamas and papas were scared of what a single leader without checks and balances would mean. The parents liked the idea of everyone being equal under a communist ideal, but we all saw the problems a big country like Russia was having, so all were very skeptical.”

My friend returned and sat at the table and took her mother’s hand, not letting go for the rest of the story. Her father said, “We only had the one child so far, and she was everyone’s favorite. She was cheerful, always smiling. And she used to love running down to the corner bodega for bolitas de tamarind. They’re sweet candy balls made from tamarind pulp. We’d give her a few coins on Friday, and she would run down the hill with her best friend, and they would buy four bolitas de tamarind each.

One Friday, she came home from school, and we gave her money to go and get her candy. Instead of taking it and running down the hill, she burst into tears and ran to her room. She wouldn’t tell us what had happened for several days. We knew something bad happened when we were getting ready for Mass, and she refused to leave the house. She kept yelling and crying, ‘Why go and pray to a God that won’t give you candy?’”

It took a few days, but eventually, several of us parents of the children in the school talked and found out that something had happened at the school the Friday before. About nine of us went to speak with the teacher the following Monday, and that’s when we found out.”

Public Domain
Fidel Castro, the dictator of Cuba for many, many years, was revered and hated for many of his tactics. But one in particular seemed to cross the line: “Pray to Castro for Candy.”

Her father stopped talking and looked down at the white tablecloth, a single tear leaving his left eye. My friend said, “It was awful.” She stared straight ahead like she was partially reliving it, partially trying to keep it at a distance. “They came into the classroom. Maybe six soldiers with big guns and cloth sacks under their arms. They grabbed our teacher by the arm, Mrs. Alfonso, and threw her on the ground in the hallway. Then, one of the soldiers pointed up on the wall at the cross with Jesus on it and yelled at us, ‘Pray! Pray to Him, that wooden God up there! Pray all of you!’ “We didn’t know what we were supposed to pray for. We were confused, and we were all crying at all the men with guns. He pointed back at the crucifix and yelled, ‘Pray to Him! Pray for candy! Pray for bolitas de tamarind! See if your wooden God gives you bolitas de tamarind!’”

So, we prayed. We cried, and we prayed for about a half hour. Some of us were standing, and others were sitting and kneeling, but no candy came. Then the man yelled again, ‘See! See what happens when you pray to a wooden God on a plus sign? Nothing! You get nothing! That’s because He’s not real! Only Castro is real! He’s the real God! He’s the real ruler!” The man took his rifle and knocked the cross to the floor, then stepped on it, breaking it into many pieces. We didn’t move. We didn’t breathe. We were scared the same would happen to us.

The man calmed down, like he was talking to a skittish horse, and said, ‘Now, pray to Castro. Go on! Pray to Castro for what you want. Pray to Castro for Candy.” We were young. We didn’t know what we were doing. So…” My friend wiped away a tear as she continued. “So, we prayed. We all prayed to Castro for candy. We all prayed for just a few minutes, and the other men reached into their big sacks and started throwing bolitas de tamarind into the air. It looked like it was raining candy from heaven! Some of the kids picked up the candy and started to stuff their pockets full of the little balls. But I couldn’t. I just…” She trailed off.

Her mother said, “When we heard what happened at the school, we knew we couldn’t stay. So, we immediately made arrangements to leave. We contacted some friends in Miami and left everything behind. Our clothes, our house, our everything. We had nothing when we got to Miami. Our friends took us in for a while but soon realized we were in the way. We went to the local parish priest, who contacted a few friends he had in seminary and told us that a friend of his was a parish pastor in Kansas City. We didn’t know where Kansas City was, so we looked it up on a map. The next week, we were on a bus to Kansas City. When we arrived, the pastor met us at the bus stop and took us to a parishioner’s house. Soon, we went to work at another parishioner’s company, and we are here today.” I smiled and commented, “All because of Castro and candy.” My friend smiled and said, “Yes, because of Castro and candy.

To pray is to ask and to listen. We pray all the time to God, to angels, to saints, but I doubt many of us have ever experienced prayer as a weapon. In this day and age of continuing war and power struggles between leaders of parties and countries, let’s make sure who we are praying to and for is rightly directed. It might become very easy to pray against an adversary. One could justify praying against someone, against an enemy. We could slip into a very spiritually dangerous place of praying for pain and destruction of individuals or races of people. We could very easily be tempted to be judge and jury and use prayer as a point of vengeance instead of what its primary purpose is—to have a heart-to-heart conversation with God. So, instead of praying to Castro for candy, I hope you can be open to God and ask for His peace to enter the world and into the hearts of those who are holding the rifles and breaking the crosses.

About Ben Bongers KM
Ben Bongers was an international operatic tenor and practicing sommelier for 30 years based in San Francisco, CA, and Europe. He has written monthly articles for trade magazines in wine and singing over a long and lustrous career. After becoming a semi-full-time caretaker for his parents, he earned an MA in Gerontology (the study of aging and care) and was asked to publish in an eldercare textbook in 2020. He has written several books, all published by EnRoute Books and Media. His first novel, THE SAINT NICHOLAS SOCIETY, has won many awards, and his other two, TRUE LOVE—12 Christmas Stories My True Love Gave to Me, and THE FARMER, THE MINER, THE ARTISAN (a children’s book) are both up for writing awards. Ben is a Knight in the Order of Malta and helped start an overnight homeless shelter at his San Francisco, CA parish. Today, he is a Permanent Diaconate Candidate in Kansas City, MO. You can read more about the author here.

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