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"Is that a racist joke? What!!!" he cries, maybe in mock horror. "I didn't mean it to be racist. I mean, it is a Miami joke, I think. Here we are so used to diversity that we learn to laugh at our diversity. The Cubans laugh at the Nicaraguans for the way they drive. The Nicaraguans laugh at the Haitians because they drive worse."
He seems to catch himself and pauses briefly.
"I mean, whatever," he concludes. "Everybody just kind of laughs at each other."
As proof that he intends no malice, he names as an acquaintance a Rabbi Shlickstein of the Jewish Federation of Greater Miami, whom he says has appeared on WAMI-TV (Channel 69) with him. The man's name is in fact Rabbi Solomon Schiff, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Association of Greater Miami. Schiff says he has had no contact with the young priest aside from their one-time twenty-minute program. "The only reason I remember the name is because it sounds like 'cute,'" he says.
Cutié insists he doesn't believe there is any racial tension in Miami. It is an astounding assertion, and suggests the road to national stardom for this product of insular Cuban Miami could be a bumpy one.
St. Patrick's Church on Miami Beach represents an affluent, bilingual community. In addition to the timeworn collection plate, parishioners can give to the church with Visa and MasterCard. This is Cutié's parish; he generally delivers two Spanish Masses every Sunday and normally preaches to a standing-room-only crowd. It's not hard to understand why: He makes Mass entertaining and sprinkles his sermons with moral uplift. Rather than using a numbing drone, he sings his prayers in a chant style. His sermons are usually funny and thought provoking. He greets individual parishioners effusively both before and after the service, and they respond warmly to him. One recent Sunday, besides the ritual joke at the beginning, his homily includes a dramatic enactment of two pivotal scenes from the movie Titanic, with him playing both leads. "I won't let go," he says, echoing Leonardo DiCaprio. He also mentions a recent senseless killing by a deranged man. The lessons of the sermon seem to be: Don't rush to judgment and have faith that Jesus Christ will never abandon you.
It is Cutié's first Mass since he began taping the Padre Alberto show. At the end of it, he urges parishioners to sign up to be part of the studio audience and to pray for him. He brings up the story of a fellow priest and friend who recently was accused by another man of having exposed himself. Channel 7 (WSVN-TV) broke the story. Using an anonymous complaint the press has emotionally destroyed a priest, Cutié says. "We need to do something positive to counteract this and God has given me the opportunity."
The topic of the thirteenth episode of Padre Alberto is "how to confront sexual harassment." About 100 people file into a studio in west Miami-Dade where almost 70 workers labor to make the show a reality. The show's producers have tried to find an audience different from the group of Cuban viejos who regularly attend the other Spanish-language talk shows made in Miami. Word has gone out to churches in the area, encouraging Spanish-speaking parishioners to support their own. Today about 85 percent of the audience is elderly. Many identify themselves as from the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Hialeah. Included in the crowd is Cutié's mother.
Much thought has gone into the set design. The colors are muted earth tones of green and beige. Cutié occupies a light-brown leather chair in the middle of a raised stage. On one side of him is a wooden chair, on the other a couch. Behind the host's chair is a television screen camouflaged in jade green, which will show videos of the priest on location. Cutié strides out to the stage and thanks the audience for coming. He appears a little nervous but once he makes contact with the crowd, the anxiety seems to dissipate. He explains that this will not be a religious show. "This is a human program," he says. "If you want to pray please come to my Mass. This is a secular network."
Nonetheless he leads the audience in prayer before the show begins. In his invocation he asks God to look out for the producers and to ensure the program delivers a message of hope. Before the camera rolls, a make-up woman daubs the priest's face with foundation and the crowd laughs at his obvious discomfort. "I never thought this would be me," Cutié jokes before heading into the wings to wait for his cue.
Finally it is time. On the couch sits a young Peruvian woman named Monica Medina. Later in the show it's revealed that she is one of only a handful of women who have publicly denounced workplace sexual harassment in her native country. The priest walks onstage and begins to read from the teleprompter. "Today we have a superdelicate topic," he says. But he stumbles on the next sentence. "From the top," a lineman yells. Cutié walks out and starts again. After two more takes he manages to get through the introduction.