As I finish chapter one of my current book, "Sacrificial Ceremonies of Cuban Santeria," I'm tracing the history of Pichardo's Supreme Court battle. The newspaper articles are interesting, to say the least. In a series of daily blogs, I thought I'd share them with you all, one-by-one, as I do my legwork and research to write a chapter about it.
SANTERIANS CELEBRATE WITH OPEN HOUSE
THE ORLANDO SENTINEL - Monday, August 17,
Author: United Press
Accessed May 21, 2011
An open house complete with native chants, music and ceremonies was held Sunday for what is hailed as
the nation's first Santeria church, a small blue and white A-frame house on a corner lot.
Ernesto Pichardo, 32, priest of the church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, said it was a historical event for the Afro-Cuban sect, which has been beset with opposition for its practice of animal sacrifices.
''This Afro-Cuban religion has been repressed for 470 years,'' he told a group of about 150 church members, reporters and curiosity seekers. ''We have been able to become the first in this country to organize and it shows we are allowed to worship under the constitution of the United States.''
The group, which was founded in 1974, became the subject of a statewide debate over the legality of the use of animal sacrifice when it announced it planned to open a Santeria church earlier this year.
The church opened in May, but services were held in the parking lot because the building had not passed plumbing and electrical inspections.
Pichardo said the church officially would open today, ''and if that leads to the need for animal sacrifices, we will do that.''
He emphasized that the chickens, pigs and goats are killed humanely by severing the main artery --''which equals the kosher method'' -- and either eaten or disposed of immediately.
The church won a major battle for survival earlier this summer when city and state officials ruled that the slaughter of animals is permitted under state law as long as it is done in a humane manner.
Animal-rights activists and other opponents of the religion, widely practiced in Dade County by Cubans and other residents with roots in the Caribbean basin, had sought a ban on the ritualistic killing of animals.
A small group of about four protesters picketed outside a fence surrounding the church property, shouting ''go back, go back, go back to the woods.''
Inside the church, in what previously was a living room of a single-family house, people kneeled on a grass prayer mat at a makeshift alter surrounded by candles, flowers, food and a cake on a silver platter.
Also on the altar was a partially-covered statue of St. Lazarus the Lame. Pichardo's brother, Fernando, 37, explained that the church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye deals mainly with health and healing. He said laymen were not permitted to see the rest of the statue for religious reasons.
Santeria 's origins lie in the worship of the deities, or orichas, of the Yoruba tribe in what is now Nigeria. When west African slaves were forced
to convert to Roman Catholicism on their arrival in Cuba, their religion was forced underground, where it adopted many features of Catholicism.
The religion also has followers in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Panama, Colombia, Venezuela and Mexico, according to Mercedes Sandoval, a professor of anthropology at Miami-Dade Community College who has studied the religion and its origin.
She estimates that 60,000 people in Dade County's Hispanic community practice Santeria in one form or another.
Ernesto Pichardo announced the church's new campaign for donations to buy property and build a sanctuary on the grounds, and vowed to fight those who want to shut the church down, all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary.
''Unfortunately, we opened our church in the middle of an election year,'' he said. ''Some of the city officials have chosen to use it as a controversial issue to gain votes.''