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Today Is Santeria's Holiest Day; Is That Why the Historic Cuba Deal Was Reached?

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Is it possible that the historic deal on Cuba struck today between Barack Obama and Raúl Castro -- with the pope's help -- came about because it is one of Santería's holiest days of the year?

December 17 is the birthday of Babalu Aye, who is the Santería god of healing. Today, Wednesday, is also his day of the week.

For untold worshipers in Cuba, and the exile community here in Miami, Babalu Aye is one of the most venerated deities in the Santería pantheon. His African name translates to "Father, Lord of the Earth," and he is associated with infectious disease and healing.

Babalu Aye is also known as Saint Lazarus and adored by his devotees as a miracle worker. If you travel across Miami-Dade County's Hispanic neighborhoods, from Westchester to Hialeah, you'll discover him everywhere from the corner bodega to front-yard shrines. He's often found watching over the faithful while perched atop a pair of crutches and wearing sackcloth, with two ever-present dogs on either side.

In Cuba, Babalu Aye is publicly honored with a pilgrimage every December 17, when tens of thousands of devotees gather at the Church of Saint Lazarus in El Rincón in Havana.

There and in countless homes across South Florida, the faithful honor the saint with acts of devotion and penitence, and since the establishment of the U.S. embargo on their homeland, they have offered Babalu Aye incalculable prayers for reunification with their families and peace for the motherland.

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