PRESENCE AND COMMITMENT OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN CUBA TODAY
The Catholic Church has been present in the history of Cubafor five centuries. This presence and pastoral action has manifested in different ways and in all environments in the social life of our people, with its lights and shadows. As it is well-known, all the baptized are the Church, the laity with their different vocations and commitments; the consecrated are the Church: nuns, friars, brothers, committed to serve everyone with their different charismas, reaching even the most impoverished neighborhoods and sugar mill hamlets; the priests are the Church in their parishes that constitute a capillary network settled throughout the length and width of the Island; and the Bishops are the Church, shepherding the People of God.
Often the voice and mission of the Church is reduced to those in its hierarchy. That is why we wish to summarize the presence and accompaniment of the Church in Cuba as an inseparable part of the nation that we all are.
- The Catholic Church in Cuba is the only institution that has lived and remained on the Island for more than five centuries. This allows it to have its own experience within all the vicissitudes of the national history of Cuba, and it must also be recognized in the failures and achievements it has had in the face of the most complex of challenges. History and Church, therefore, coincide in being witnesses and teachers of life in Cuba. It constitutes its presence in time.
- The Catholic Church in Cuba is the only institutional capillary network that has geographical and relational presence in every corner of the country. Just the fact of «being there,” present in every sugar mill hamlet, neighborhood, town, or city in Cuba is by itself a qualified service because while others see, speak, or act from above or from afar, the Church lives, is, encourages, teaches, serves, cultivates the soul, takes care of the body, and defends human dignity, in every capillary vessel of Cuba. It is its presence in the land.
- The Catholic Church in Cuba has witnessed this active presence throughout the centuries summarizing them in a document known as «lessons of history,» fruit of the Ecclesiastical Reflection(REC) and Cuban National Ecclesial Encounter (ENEC) in whose final document it is stated that:
“We have approached that healing and life-giving accompaniment of the Church in those three dimensions: in time, in the territorial space and in its relations to the rest of society, which show that it is not a circumstantial, momentary, or exceptional presence. The Catholic Church in Cuba has a historical, systematic, and foundational presence. It has been part of our culture, of our nationality, since its birth, and in all processes in our history.
In addition to this permanent presence, we can mention some signs of the Church’s participation in the events that have marked our national history in recent years:
- The educational work of the Center for Civic and Religious Formation of the Diocese of Pinar del Río from 1993 to 2007, responding to the prevalent ethical and civic illiteracy and to contribute to the healing of the anthropological damage caused by totalitarianism in Cuba. Training courses, literary contests, groups of economists, educators, computer, legal, psychological, and family consultancy, andafter-school tutoring, among other services. At the same time, religious orders in Cuba were founding other training centers that today are very significant. They have trained young people who have been present in the generation of thought and civic activism in Cuba.
- The dissemination of the sociocultural magazine Vitral from 1994 to 2007, when it changed its editorial profile. During those 13 years Vitralreached a circulation of 12,000 copies at 60 pages each and was distributed throughout Cuba through the internal fabric of the Church. It also reached universities and churches in the United States, Spain, and the Americas. Vitral was part of a significant number of Catholic publications in all the dioceses of Cuba. The Centro de Estudios Convivencia (CEC) has continued that work for 14 years and some young people today have said that their conscience was awakened by Vitraland Convivencia.
- The Catholic Commissions for Culture, the Catholic Social Weeks, the lay movements, the Inter-Diocesan Assemblies of the Laity, have been a nursery and accompaniment for the laity committed to our country.
- The Cuban Confederation of Religious Men and Women (CONCUR) has been a community of consecrated and incarnated life that has reflected and proclaimed the good news for the most vulnerable and committed sectors of Cuba and, lately, has organized a juridical service of counseling and accompaniment for victims of abuse of all kinds.
- A growing group of diocesan and religious priests have formed communities of thought, presence, and commitment to the latest events in Cuba, raising their voices in favor of the persecuted, the slandered, and the discriminated, and making themselves present in peaceful and civic initiatives.
- Priests, religious and lay Catholics went, or tried to go, to San Isidro in 2020, in the midst of the hunger strikers and their companions, to be at the side of these young people and to bring them spiritual assistance and solidarity.
- Catholic and evangelical priests and lay people were present at the sit-in in front of the Ministry of Culture on November 27, 2020, while the Cardinal of Havana prayed for social peace and dialogue at the Mass on the Day of the Miraculous Virgin.
- Catholic and evangelical priests, pastors and lay people stood with the people in the demonstrations of July 11, 2021, to interpose themselves between the victims and their victimizers, to prevent violence with their presence and exhortations to understanding. The white habit that recalled Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas, the memorial black cassock of Father Félix Varela, the Franciscan habit, and the habit of other religious orders, were the sign of evangelical and civil commitment of young priests, nuns and religious during those days. Some of them received wounds for defending even the victimizers of violence. The image of the Virgin of Charity was raised by a young Cuban priest on July 11 to bless all Cubans.
- All the time after July 11th, bishops, priests, nuns, religious and lay people have been present, active and in solidarity with the prisoners, their families, and friends, providing both a spiritual service and legal advice.
- The Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba, standing very close to the image of Charity in the Sanctuary of El Cobre, twice raised prophetic and committed prayers asking the Mother of all Cubans for a peaceful change and a climate of fraternity among all her children.
- Once again, priests and lay people were present in the peaceful and civic initiatives before and during November 15, 2021. We must remember, especially, as a symbol of this accompaniment of the Catholic Church for centuries and especially during the latest events in Cuba, what we can identify as a Prophetic Week: that of November 8 to 15, 2021 in which every day of the week the voice of a sector or vocation of the Church was raised in favor of understanding, peace, change and non-violence.
- On Monday the 8th the voice of a layman; on Tuesday the 9th the prayer of a nun; on Wednesday the 10 a letter of about twenty priests asking the police and other law enforcement agencies not to use violence among Cuban brothers on November 15th; on Thursday the 11th all the Bishops of Cuba gathered in the Episcopal Conference published a Communiqué proposing fundamental points to get out of this crisis. On Friday the 12th, CONCUR issued a communication in solidarity with the Cuban people and with the nun who had published her prayer on Tuesday. On Saturday the 13th a video was published in which priests, religious and lay people asked not to raise their hands against their brethren. On Sunday the 14th, in many temples in Cuba there was an insistent prayer for peace in Cuba.
- In some of the most important demonstrations held in Washington and New York in 2020, and during November 14 and 15, 2021, in more than one hundred cities around the world, the image of the Virgin of Charity, a beautiful replica made by a young artist of the original one in El Cobre, was present on a flagpole, like a mystical flag, hoisted by priests and lay people.
- On November 18th, the Academy awarded two Grammy Awards, corresponding to the categories «Urban Song» and «Song of the Year» to what has become the anthem of all these longings for freedom and prosperity for Cuba: «Patria y Vida» (Homeland and Life). Three days later, on Sunday, November 21, 2021, at three o’clock in the afternoon, Yotuel, together with his family, participated in the Mass at the Ermita de la Caridad in Miami and at the end they offered to the Virgin Patroness of Cuba the two trophies symbols of these awards and after depositing them before the altar with the phrase: «At the feet of the Virgin I bring my Grammy», he interpreted together with the Hermitage Choir the iconic song «Patria y Vida» during which, kneeling in front of the Virgin with his arms raised, the artist implored freedom, life and prosperity for the Cuban people. This historical milestone is part of the multi-secular itinerary of the presence and commitment of the Catholic Church in the life, history, and culture of Cuba.
Due to this presence and commitment of the faith and the Church, during centuries and since the foundation of the Cuban nation, it is not surprising that in the Preamble of the 1940 Constitution, the favor of God was invoked, without limiting or damaging with this, at all, the complete religious freedom to profess any belief or to be agnostic or atheist, as it appears without contradiction in the articles of the this 1940 Constitution.
After November 15, the Cuban Church continues to remain here in the land where God planted us, despite all the hardships. We continue here in the sowing of hope that does not disappoint. We continue proclaiming in Cuba the faith in only one God and Messiah: Jesus Christ, in the face of all kinds of caudillismos and messianisms. Making alive that programmatic phrase of Pope Saint John Paul II: «The faith that does not become culture: it has not been fully accepted, it has not been fully thought out, it has not been faithfully lived» (John Paul II, January 16, 1982). It is so that all this may remain in the memory of our people that the magazine Convivencia dedicates this issue to bear witness to these signs of presence and commitment together with so many others that will remain deep in the hearts and experiences of thousands of Cuban Christians.
When all this has passed and Cuba begins to rebuild itself from the ashes, there too, as throughout the centuries, we will be the laity, the religious, the priests and the bishops of the Catholic Church in Cuba, standing shoulder to shoulder with other evangelical brothers, with other religions, with agnostics and atheists, honoring the fraternity that unites us for being human, for being Cubans, and for wanting for Cuba a free, democratic, prosperous and happy future.
Pinar del Río, November 20, 2021
233rd anniversary of the birth of Father Félix Varela