While the Roman Catholic Church is still debating whether to allow the ordination of women as priests, one quasi religious group has already embraced them such, La Santeria in Cuba.
La Santeria initiates must undergo a year-long series of tests including having their heads shaved and painted in the colours of Santeria's saints. The Catholic Virgin in Cuba is linked to an African goddess called Oshun.
Santeria is a religion that's Afro-Cuban in origin and, according to estimates, is embraced by at least seventy per cent of the Cuban population. It can be traced back to the presence of African slaves who were brought by the Spanish Conquistadores during their colonisation of the New World.
Cuban Santeria with its African deities most notably the goddess Oshun had, over the centuries, embraced aspects of the Catholic religion of the Spanish Conquistadores. It evolved to become a fusion, an exotic melange of the African spiritual and European religious worlds, where Voodoo rituals are equally at home with reverence for Jesus Christ. Followers of Santeria also call their deities saints, as the Catholics do.
Since the Cuban Revolution when religious nourishment was obtained in the form of Communist dogma, Santeria became a semi-clandestine religion that honoured a multitude of saints. Each saint has his own colours and rituals as well as paths and attributes. A number of them have human attributes and indeed carry with them "little sins".
Santeria priestesses are easily identified as they are dressed entirely in white and wearing a turban with necklaces or bracelets adorning their body. As a priestess she helps to wake up the saints. The Santeria priest, a Santero, is regarded as having the power to read one's destiny, among other powers.
Cuba's patron saint is Oshun, The Virgin of Charity at El Cobre. She is also the goddess of love, femininity and the river, a symbol of coquetry, grace and female sexuality. Her colour is yellow or amber and she protects against diseases of the stomach and genitals, blood, liver and all types of bleeding. One may be hard-pressed to find an equivalent 'guardian angel' from the Catholic list of saints.
The Cubans' thirst for religion was there for the entire world to see in 1998 when the late Pope John Paul the Second visited the sanctuary of El Cobre. It is here that Cuban pilgrims pray to the Virgin of Charity. It is here that Fidel Castro received Pope John Paul the Second and it is also here that the world saw an extraordinary outpouring of emotion by the Cuban people who reached out for religion and freedom.
Today in Cuba Santeria followers mingle freely with the congregation during the Catholic Mass. And furthermore, as it states in the program, you can be a follower of Santeria and a Catholic, a spiritualist and a Communist.