Elderly Support Centers in Cuba

The Cuban Association of the Order of Malta started the Elderly Support Centers in the 1990’s, assisting the poor and the elderly with the assistance of the parish priests and Bishops of the Catholic Church in Cuba. Today, we support 58 facilities throughout the Island, serving more than 15,000 poor with over 800,000 meals every year. The support of the Catholic Church has been significant, for we count on their assistance to deliver our financial support directly to them.

When the Cuban Association began this work, it never imagined that the expectations and interest were to increase and that there would be so many people willing to collaborate and help in this project. Initially, the only existing dining facility was at the parish of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the town of Los Pinos, Habana. Very soon two other dining facilities at the Parish of Santa Maria del Rosario in the municipality of Cotorro and at San Juan y Martinez in Pinar del Rio, started and were initially funded by members of the Order independently of the Cuban Association.
The creation of these food banks and care centers for the elderly not only provides them with food, it is like a family, with which they make their days more bearable. Most of these dining rooms are open Monday through Friday from 8:00 to 16:00, and the extra activities scheduled after lunchtime. One example is the Center at the Parish of Our Lady of Mercy where they assist with craft classes, exercise programs, dancing and even manicures for ladies. Delivering cantinas (lunch boxes) for some who cannot move out of their homes is one of the tasks to be performed. Evidence of all these activities are received at the offices of the Order through quarterly reports from the parish priest of bishop responsible for each center.

Our funding is provided by donors in the United States, Central and South America and Europe, and we comply with the regulations of the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), of the US Department of the Treasury, who supervises our grants and the assistance we provide to the Church in Cuba. In May of 2014 we received the Solidaridad Internacional First Prize for our work in our Centers, given by the Spanish Magazine TELVA, though the charitable intervention of the Foundation Via Maria of Madrid, who sponsored our work.

We also support four assistance Centers of the Sisters of Mary, and the Seminar for Catholic Priests, San Carlos and San Ambrosio, founded in 1689, which recently moved to a modern facility in East Habana in 2010. In addition to these facilities, we give financial assistance to a minor Seminary in the Camaguey Archdiocese, and support the only house for retired and disabled priests in Cuba, at the San Francisco de Paula parish in Habana. In total we have 64 programs throughout the Island with the collaboration of the Catholic Church of Cuba. Picture at left is in the Church of La Merced parish in Habana. At right is the entrance to the new Seminar of San Carlos and San Ambrosio in Eastern Habana


In early 2011, as we have been doing in the last few years, a group of our members, under the leadership of our President, Fernando Garcia-Chacon y Chacon, and Mons. Thomas Wenski, Archbishop of Miami and Head Chaplain of our Association, made an extended visit to the different facilities which we support throughout the Island, as well as the Sanctuary of our patron Saint la Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, in Oriente Province.

To illustrate that visit, we present to you an excellent news article by a reporter of the Florida Catholic Newspaper, published in Miami.


Good company and very good food

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Knights of Malta visit one of the centers for the elderly that they help maintain in Cuba
Thursday, February 17, 2011
Ana Rodriguez-Soto – Florida Catholic

HAVANA, Cuba — Gilma Martínez Reyes is 85 and lives with her sister in a third floor apartment in Old Havana. Even though she has a bad leg and walks with a cane, every day she treks up and down the stairs of her house to have lunch in the patio of the Church of San Angel Custodia (the Guardian Angel).

There, she and her sister enjoy “very good company and very good food,” said Martinez.

It was nearly noon, and she and nearly 20 other seniors awaited their daily lunch when a delegation of the Cuban Association of the Order of Malta stopped by to visit one of the 60 centers for the elderly they help maintain on the island.

“We are super, super grateful for your generosity,” said Jorge Suarez, who along with his wife has administered the center since it opened seven years ago.

Visiting Centers for the Elderly in Cuba- 2011

Currently, the center serves 50 seniors, most of whom live alone. Suarez explained that, as time passes, the proportion of seniors who cannot walk up the hill that leads to the church has grown. Now, only 24 come to the center. The meal is delivered to the homes of those who cannot go in person.

What do you feed them? asked Archbishop Thomas Wenski.

“Whatever we can find,” said Suarez.

That day it was white rice, black beans and meatballs made out of chicken.

“We ask for the intercession of Mother Teresa of Calcutta when things are tight — which is almost every day,” said Suarez.

Thanks to the donations from members of the Order of Malta, the seniors can count on a lunch from Monday through Friday. They also receive hygiene products such as soap and detergent that are too expensive for them to purchase.

“What the Cuban Church admires is that the Order of Malta is dependable. We can always count on that,” said Rolando “Piro” Suarez, legal advisor to the Cuban bishops’ conference.

The Cuban Association of the Order of Malta began supporting centers for the elderly in Cuba about 16 or 17 years ago, eventually opening them throughout the entire island.

They also maintain four centers for the sick staffed by the Servants of Mary, a center for children with Down’s syndrome, a home for retired priests and a home for the aged in Havana, and they help maintain a percentage of the seminarians on the island.

The association has 115 members in North and South America and Europe, although the majority live in Miami. Almost all are exiles who left Cuba in the 1960s.

“We’re the Cuban association and this is what we do and where we are supposed to do it,” said Juan O’Naghten, vice-president of the group.