Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Catholic Kids' Book Introduces Teens to Cuban Culture and Faith Under Fire

Threats to religious liberty are nearer to us than most young people imagine, and the story of Castro's Cuba brings that lesson home in a powerful way. Born of Cuban exiles, journalist Liz Lantigua has written an eye-opening fictionalized account of a Catholic family escaping Cuba on a small raft with a mission to achieve freedom in the United States. Lantigua's book, Mission Libertad, cleverly weaves true historical details with a compelling plot and introduces readers to common Spanish words and sayings along the way.

The main character is 14-year-old Luisito, who braves a dangerous sea crossing with his parents in order to reach their relatives in America. Luisito's elderly grandmother has insisted that he carry a secret message to a priest in the United States once Luisito arrives there. The message involves Luisito in a cat-and-mouse game involving Cuban spies, FBI agents, and international smuggling.

Mission Libertad offers teens a surprising view of the United States as seen through other eyes. The desperate economic conditions of Cuba make Luisito amazingly grateful for the everyday material comforts that his U.S. cousins -- and probably most U.S. teens -- take for granted. The religious liberty that we enjoy in the United States also astounds Luisito. In Cuba, Luisito needed to be baptized in secret and he never received First Communion or Confirmation. His teachers there openly mocked and punished any show of faith in God. Luisito's story, based on historical reality, reminds U.S. readers how blessed we are to have stores stocked with food and clothing and churches with doors open to us for Mass every day of the week.

The story gently exposes its readers to the world outside their borders, a world that includes what Pope Francis has called the Church of the Poor. Teens sometimes have a tendency to focus inwards on their own problems and their own emotional roller-coasters, but they have a great capacity for idealism and service. Learning how much less other people have and how much they need our help and prayers can inspire teens to grow in compassion and virtue. Mission Libertad is a great tool for parents and teachers to help teens to see beyond themselves.

Although Catholic culture pervades the book, Mission Libertad never preaches doctrine or theology. The closest it comes to catechism is in a beautiful scene where Luisito says a heartfelt prayer on the basketball court (a setting that will resonate with most teenage boys and a few girls as well!):
"Dear God, I hope this goes in ... for my team and for my sake. Please, God, hear my prayer and, if not, let me cope with whatever happens."

Luisito's wisdom in accepting God's will no matter what happens is a good lesson for adults as well as kids. In short, Mission Libertad should be a no-fail hit for almost any Catholic teen, from the devout to the doubt-filled. Click here to order it from Pauline Books & Media.

My thanks to author Liz Lantigua for providing me with a free copy.

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