The Violations of Religious Freedom in Cuba Continue / Mario LLeonart

Mario Lleonart, 22 June 2015 — Cuban Christians are grateful to Christian Solidarity Worldwide for the constant monitoring of violations of religious freedom in our country. I’d like to thank the Washington Post for giving this message a voice as other organizations like the Anajure in Brazil have done. I’d like to especially thank you for mentioning the theft of the lot belonging to our Baptist church in Yaguajay where our baptist college was held from in those times when we were also able to contribute to education.

Translated by: J. García

Profile of a Father / Mario Lleonart

Right about now, on this Father’s Day, Raúl Borges Álvarez is surely living something similar to what he has been suffering for 17 years, petitioning the prison where one of his two sons is held which will not even concede the possibility of letting him out on parole, to which he is entitled by law — all because of blasted politics!

At Havana’s Santa Rita Church — as at various other churches across the country — mothers, sisters, daughters and friends of many other political prisoners penalized for political differences attempt to gather each Sunday to attend Mass and later march, each holding a gladiolus. According to the latest statistics from the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN), there are around 71 prisoners on the known list. The women who march for them are known as the Ladies in White. Continue reading

Why The Beatings? / Mario Lleonart

Mario Lleonart, 5 June 2015 — Beatings of peaceful demonstrators in Havana have been in the news for eight consecutive Sundays. In one of the first rounds, the son of the labor leader Jesús Menéndez was dragged for several yards along the ground with no concern for his advanced age.

On the seventh Sunday, between beatings and more beatings, it was obvious that another attempt was made to kill Raúl Borges Alvarez, this time with a sure blow to the chest–no matter (or, actually, because of) his having undergone heart surgery. Continue reading

Four Years Without Justice / Mario Lleonart

Juan Wilfredo Soto García, “The Student,” October 13, 2010

May 5th was the fourth anniversary of the brutal beating of activist Juan Wilfredo Soto García, which resulted in his death two days later. It was followed bythe deaths of noted leaders Laura Pollán and Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, in which many also acknowledge the presence of the criminal hand. The effectiveness of extrajudicial execution, verified in the case of Juan Wilfredo Soto and amply proven by other governments, is also beyond doubt in Cuba.

The regime that began with firing squads no longer needs them. The moratorium on the death penalty since 2003 is possible because those in power have perfected their method of eliminating political opponents, paying for it at the lowest possible price. North Korea, which “judicially” exterminates without ceremony, as demonstrated again a few days ago, should take lessons from its more sophisticated Cuban allies, the best students of Machiavelli. Continue reading

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, from Cuba / Mario Lleonart

Photo of the author

Although today [15 January] is a holiday only in the USA, I also in my own way celebrate it in Cuba. Why not join in the celebration of the birth of the Baptist pastor and fighter for civil rights, Martin Luther King Jr.? His life is inspirational for many of us, including me, who every day seek freedom and equality for human beings, all creatures of God.

 His existence is one of my answers to those who in Cuba who question why I combine theology with social activism. I have not invented anything new. It is the most natural thing to combine ideas and actions, and this was what happened in the life of the Reverend King. His sermons, his philosophy, his methodology, his strategy of nonviolent struggle, his life and his martyrdom are an example to follow in any dark corner of the world, and also in the illuminated places, to prevent anyone ever to darken them.

The last time that I mentioned his name to those who are responsible for repressing me in Cuba was on October 26, when I arrived from Poland, two agents from State security awaited me at the airport for questioning about my statements in the land of Lech Walesa and my subsequent activities and position in Cuba.

According to them my pastoral ministry should be confined to the four walls of a church to which they would gladly cloister me. My answer was that in addition to the unsurpassed example of Jesus Christ, I admired and tried to imitate, except for the distances, transcendental beings such as the Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Catholic priest Jerzy Popieluszco and the Baptist pastor Martin Luther King Jr.

To which one of them, with the obvious threat that the same thing could happen to me, he riposted: What a coincidence, that all of them are martyrs!

Hopefully just like in August 1963, when he achieved that historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, in Cuba soon we will be able to realize something similar of our own in Havana, which, as the successful artist Tania Bruguera demonstrated in the recent events on December 30, so far remains forbidden to the people.

In the midst of our Cuban reality of continual violations civil rights, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. is one of our luminaries.

Translated by: Hombre de Paz

Spanish post
19 January 2015

The situation of religious liberty in Cuba / Mario Lleonart

The delegation from Instituto Patmos, invited by United for Human Rights to the celebration of the 66th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

During all of 2014 this blog, Cubano Confesante, I examined the best part of the thirty questions that doubt the supposed religious liberties in Cuba, which were launched in September of 2013 during the trip we took to Washington, invited by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

These analyses were the object of discussion in forums and workshops convened by the Instituto Patmos in various sites in Cuba, and at times also some of those posts were the fruit of these. This contributed to sharing these contents in an island where access to internet is difficult. Continue reading

My Encounters With Popieluszko / Mario Lleonart

With my brother in Christ Dagoberto Valdes during the homages to Jerzy Popieluszko

In June of 2013 I travelled for the first time to Poland and made an inevitable visit to the tomb of the Polish martyr Jerzy Popieluszko. All the way from distant Cuba, Popieluszko for me embodied the logical challenge of faith in the face of a totalitarian system that is an enemy of God.

If in life Popieluszko more than fulfilled his pastoral duty of defending his fold against the wolf, in death he showed the world the utter impotence of a regime capable of resorting to assassination to silence a prophet, and clearly put in contrast the borders between good and evil in the Poland of 1984.

My return to Poland in October 2014 coincided with the 30th anniversary of the crime agains Popieluszko, and constituted a theological lesson on the implications of the martyrdom of the saints – in particular, the eschatological truth of the Resurrection and the Christian hope that celebrates as ever-living those exceptional beings such as Popieluszko, even though their remains still rest in their tombs.

Here I am in the church with the sister and brother of Popieluszko

This time my pilgrimage was not in solitude in search of a site of mystical quietude, as in 2013. It was more like a grain of sand among compact multitudes who were expressing our admiration and remembrance of the good pastor who did not flee when he saw the wolf approaching. At the same time, we were celebrating the fruit of his sacrifice: democracy and liberty in today’s Poland.

Among the first changes evident after 1989, perhaps imperceptible among many enormous and transcendent transformations, was the inclusion (a happy initiative of Lech Walesa’s) of a chapel in no less than the symbolic Presidential Palace – which would have been inconceivable during the period of totalitarian misrule.

Expression of liberties gained constitutes proof that the physical death of the martyr Popieluszko, rather than rendering him invisible, immortalized him to his people and amplified the values and virtues that he preached and practiced in life.

A radiant sun on Sunday, October 19, provided an extraordinary setting — as if in respite from the harsh, quasi-wintry days of autumn — to thousands of Poles and hundreds of citizens from the world over gathered at the place that guards the remains of the martyr who awaits his resurrection.

It was the natural testimony of the celebration in heaven and on earth honoring the the life that Death did not cut short, an evangelical reaffirmation that there are some who kill physical bodies, but they cannot kill souls. Blessed Poland that has her Popieluszko as a sign that in her, the wolves could not — without pastoral resistance — attack the sheep, who in fact chased away the wolf that attacked their pastor.

Multitudes at the tributes to Popieluszko

Multitudes at the tributes to Popieluszko

Happy Poland for not accepting the lament (in other contexts a fitting one) in “Ring Them Bells” by Bob Dylan: “Oh the shepherd is asleep/ where the willows weep/ and the mountains are filled with lost sheep.” God willing that in any part of the world where, as in Cuba, wild beasts have their lair, there be pastors like Popieluszko capable of facing them down, true to their calling, even — were it necessary — unto the sacred privilege of martyrdom.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

29 October 2014

My Experience in Coral Park: The Church-Synagogue / Mario Lleonart

The temple of the First Baptist Church of Coral Park: “The Whale”

It was my Sunday of rest in the United States (July 20), on this voyage that I made, between July 9th and August 6th, leading a small delegation that included my wife and daughters, and four other brothers of our church in Cuba. It was my day to be seated to receive the Word.

The previous Sunday I preached in the Baptist church “Star of Bethlehem,”  in Hialeah; and in the nearly two weeks of the journey that remained, they hoped that I would preach to at least four more congregations: “Jesus Worship Center (www.iglesiadoral.org)” of Doral; the “First Hispanic Presbyterian Church” of Tampa; the “Christian House: JWC” of Kissimee; and the “Hispanic Baptist Church” of Naples. It was very opportune that this Sunday was included, because I had done so much speaking in the previous day that I had ended up literally without a voice.

The stained glass window of the Star of David

First Baptist Church of Coral Park is the congregation where brothers worship deeply and with great love for Cuba that today they wanted to dedicate to us their Sunday and their church. The same church in which pastored the well-remembered Rev. Jorge Comesañas whose name, unsurprisingly, was given to one of the neighboring streets, and especially to whom they arrived from their broken isle seeking healing for their wounds. Continue reading

Retired but Not Gone Away / Mario Lleonart

On Friday, November 22, we made another stop on our U.S. itinerary that we will never forget. At the invitation of the Fellowship of Hispanic Churches, we participated in a tribute paid to retired pastors. Honor to whom honor is due, or as the Scripture says in Hebrews 13:7: ̈ Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you; Consider the result of their conduct, and imitate their faith.”

This special occasion took place in Gethsemane Baptist Church in Miami at 5298 NW 7th St. The meeting was full of fond feelings. The pastor of the local church Felipe Rodriguez, moderator of the radio program “Building Lives,” which airs daily from 7 – 8 p.m, on 1450 AM, who was in an evangelistic campaign in our church in Taguayabon in 1993 while serving as pastor in Regla, blessed everyone with a few inspired words from Galatians 1:6 – 2:5 from which he set out seven truths he learned from the honorable elders: the one called by God preaches the true gospel (1:6-7); is radical (1.8-10); has a divine message ( 1:11-12); is set apart by God’s grace (1:15); is prepared by God (1:17-18); preaches with his testimony (1:24); and identifies the false brethren and does not submit to them even for a moment (2:4-5).

My wife Yoaxis  and I had the blessing of greeting such worthy elders. To share the table with Dr. Marcos Antonio Ramos, who prefers to be known as “Tony” the son of “Cheo”, showed us that even if they are retired they have by no means gone away. Some of them we knew from Cuba, as in the case of those who were our pastors in my early childhood: Isabel and Esteban Estrada, as well as Dora and Leoncio Veguilla, who for years occupied the highest offices of our Association in Cuba.

I was moved to find there the widow of former Taguayabon pastor Obed Guzman, the moderator for many years of the “Baptist Hour” program in Miami that we listened to from Cuba. It was also very moving for us to to be embraced by the widow of the great Jorge Comezañas. One of the most beautiful moments was the wedding sendoff of Rafael Melian (Felo) and Miriam Sánchez Parodi, who will move to Jacksonville in January.

The author with one of those retired but not gone away, Dr. Marcos Antonio Ramos, along with the leaders Pablo Miret and Luis Estevez

The author with one of those retired but not gone away, Dr. Marcos Antonio Ramos, along with the leaders Pablo Miret and Luis Estevez

As a continuation of Friday, on Sunday morning I attended the first service of Northside Baptist Church Pastor Adalberto Cuellar, also retired, who baptized my parents and many other relatives in Cuba because he was pastor at our church in Taguayabon in the hardest times, just as they got up the nerve to put a stamp on our door between November 1963 and December 1964. In our area, the work of this man of God, who remained unwavering in difficult times, still survives.

Leaders like Pablo Miret, Andrés Olivares, Luis Estevez, and Nathaniel Vicens struggled and performed a work of genuine servants “washing the feet” of so many heroes and reaching the goal. I embrace them for the gracious invitation and thank them for the master’s class that was given to me that day, fantastic for my ministry in the midst of an aging country, in the most-aged province, and with the fate of lacking an entire generation of senior pastors who, like most of those present that day, had to leave Cuba in a choice that I do not judge, as a result of one of the greatest persecutions that we believers have suffered in the entire continent.

Translated by Tomás A.

25 November 2013

Eric Metaxas’s “Bonhoeffer” / Mario Lleonart

By Mario Félix Lleonart

If the only benefit of my recent trip to the United States had been to find and bring back to Cuba with me the biography Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas, it would have been worth it. As I’ve always declared, that martyr of the German church is an inspiration for my life, and thus for this “Confessing Cuban” blog.

During the recent days of detention and house arrest accompanying the shameful repressive crackdown (as we should always characterize it when mentioning the Second CELAC Summit in Havana), the work of Metaxas was my bedside book. A text like this, regardless of my circumstances, reaffirms my faith and my convictions of social justice emanating from the Bible.

In my recent reading (since several more are required) of chapter seven, “Bonhoeffer in America,” recounting the pastor’s nearly yearlong stay (1930-31) in that great country, I identified strongly because of my similar experience during the four months I just lived through. Continue reading

"The Student" and #ShameOnUnitedNations / Mario Lleonart

Poster for the campaign #ShameOnUnitedNations. By Rolando Pulido.

The beginning and end of yesterday were inextricably linked.

I woke up to the publication on Facebook, by my brother Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo of the recently initiated campaign, and we’ll be waging it as along as the United Nations remains occupied by regimes tied to terrorist, or which are guilty of State Terrorism.

Independently of each of the faces on this poster, my soul is touched by all the martyrs, the victims of the feudal government that reigns in Cuba. The first of them, Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia, nicknamed “The Student,” moved me deeply, for being the face of a friend, whose story of life and death God involved me in during the last year of his life, the irrevocable proof of which is my tweet of May 5, 2011 at 11:55 a.m., a few minutes after the he was fatally beaten.

At the closing of the night I was sent “The Price,” by its composer, Ciro Javier Díaz Penedo dedicated to my assassinated friend.

The death of “The Student” — nicknamed this for his early imprisonment when he was only sixteen — invalidates the bad government in Cuba, not only for a seat on the UN but also for the chair that it occupies there. The worst thing is that there are many more deaths, a multitude of faces far beyond those shown on the poster; and the worst of the worst is that 148 States have become accomplices.

14 November 2013

“Prince of Peace” Around My Neck / Mario Lleonart

Preaching the Gospel: Prince of Peace Lutheran Church

When I was just a kid, discriminated against in Cuba for attending the Baptist Church of my town, I could not imagine that one day I would receive the special Prince of Peace honor that is granted by the Lutheran Church on 6375 West Flager in Miami.

Every Sunday before going to Sunday school, I would listen to the program “Ayer, hoy y siempre” (Yesterday, today and forever) on radio WQBA “La Cubanísima” on 1140 AM. And Good Friday was not truly Good Friday if I did not listen to the “Sermon of the Seven Words” presented by the pastor, Reverend Lenier Gallardo, on the same radio frequency.

Receiving the medal from the hands of Rev. Lenier Gallardo

I had the blessing of being present when the same medal was conferred to Reverend Marcos Antonio Ramos who honors the name of the Baptists among the Cubans in exile. He gave an extraordinary sermon about the “Day of the Protestant Reformation” and later the Reverend Lenier Gallardo put the meaningful medal on his neck. What I didn’t imagine was that the next Sunday the same scene was repeated for me. It had been years since the church had given its symbolic award.

With Rev. Lenier Gallardo after ceremony

To be so close to and shake hands with two men of God as the Rev. Lenier Gallardo and Dr. Marcos Antonio Ramos are for Cuba was already enough. But being feted with the Prince of Peace medal at the hands of the saint that is the Rev. Lenier Gallardo was more than I could dream of. Receiving the blessing and the affection from these spiritual leaders of the exile strengthens my commitment and responsibility to the Gospel of Christ for Cuba. Hopefully I can reach the level of the ministries that they have achieved.

The award to Dr. Marcos Antonio Ramos a week before, celebrating the Day of the Protestant Reformation

Translated by Boston College CASA (Cuban American Association) Member: Elio Andres Oliva

14 November 2013