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

The Welcome of Our Brothers in the USA / Mario Lleonart

US churches and ministeries plus the media and secular institutions are giving us a warm welcome.

Tomorrow at 9 am we will participate in the special service dedicated to the Protestant Reform Day that will be celebrated at 9 am in the Lutheran Church “Prince of Peace” (6375 West Flager Street, Miami, FL 33144).  We were invited by its pastor Lenier Gallardo; we listened to him from Cuba for many years preaching a liberating gospel through the program “Yesterday, Today and Always” or through his famous sermons of seven words each Holy Friday, through WQBA.  In this special service the sermon will be provided by the Baptist pastor, also a prolific writer, journalist and historian, Marcos Antonio Ramos, and with whom we already had the honor of sharing at Miami Dade College.

Then at 11 am we wiil have the responsibility of preaching in the New Jerusalem Baptist Church at 760 SE 8 St in Hialeah, invited by its pastor Luis Estevez.  We already did it at Adonai and Mi Ebenezer, invited by its pastor Moises Robaina; at Estrella de Belen, invited by its pastor Javier Sotolongo; at Bethel, invited by its pastor Gerardo Garcia and at Nazaret, invited by its pastor Noel Perez.

We have also been invited to the Baptist program of Multicultural Radio (UNAVISION RADIO), to several programs of the services of “Onward” by 1450 AM; and to the program of Life (1080 AM) and Radio Luz by 1360 AM, this last can be heard perfectly in Cuba, and we had the unforgettable opportunity of being heard by our brothers there.

To top it off, pastor Javier Sotolongo gave us the opportunity to exercise a professorship in the Miami Bible College that he directs.  The live transmission of his church services permitted us to reach with our preaching many around the world, including those who had the privileged and very exclusive possibility of accessing from Cuba.

We are receiving invitations to go share with churches and ministries in other cities and states like Tampa, Atlanta, Dallas, North Carolina, New York, New Jersey and Indiana.  We were already in Washington DC where one of our most important stops occurred: the visit to the headquarters of the World Baptist Alliance where we were received by the unforgettable brother Raimundo Barreto who directs the Commission of Justice and Liberty there; in Oklahoma where we met courageous brothers, typical inhabitants of the not coincidentally named Bible Belt of the United States. We thank God for offering us the excellent opportunity of also proclaiming his Word on this shore where we also have found so much of Cuba present.

Translated by mlk.

26 October 2013

Visiting the USA / Mario Lleonart

Alongside a national poster campaign announced in November by Billy Graham.

Contrary to predictions since 9/11 my wife and I are in USA.  It has been so intense that the time to write in my blog Cubano Confesante has been null.  But now is the time, in the midst of a tight agenda I will attempt to stamp a few lines where we’ll provide testimony, at least the most important parts of our stay in the nation of our admired Billy Graham.

Translated by – LYD

1 October 2013

The Same Dream, for Cuba / Mario Lleonart

1377651836_Una-de-las-diapositivas-de-mi-sermón-este-domingo-300x225Text of the poster: Christian Cubans also have received all the divine means Martin Luther King had at his disposition to combat evil. God willing we make use of them.  

This Wednesday, August 28 marks 50 years since the famous march on Washington lead by Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968) demanding the recognition of rights of African-Americans. From Cuba, I follow the example of this hero of faith. To these oppressors who constantly threaten and stalk beneath the taboo that Christians should not get involved in politics today I return to give the example of the life, work and homily of this pastor baptised as I am. And I warn you; watch out for me if God gives me the opportunity, as he had, some day to participate, too, in a march on Havana where I will express that I also have a dream, similar to that of Reverend King, “With all and for all Cubans.”

27 August 2013

Orange Juice Runs Through My Veins / Mario Lleonart

Not even I understand how much those nearly eight months — from 30 November 1993 to 28 July 1994 — affected the rest of my life. I was used as cheap and reliable labor, exposed to hard labor in the citrus harvest, to the substantial economic benefit of the Cuban regime and the Grupo B.M. y Waknine & Berezovsky Co. Ltd. Over the years now I hve come to understand that it was a chapter God had for me. The experiences I went through had to do with things far beyond what I imagine, given all that I have been and done since then.

My friend Omar Lopez Montenegro whom I met last June on my trip to Poland excitedly tells his experience at the famous Pre-University of de la Víbora, a site which has also been immortalized thanks to another of its graduates, the writer Leonardo Padura Fuentes, who turned this mythical place into the origin of the backstory of his character detective Mario Conde.

The joint non-violent resistence of Omar and other friends prevented some gatekeepers from cutting their long hair during a period of mobilization in the field. I lived something similar in Boom 400 of the EJT (Ejercito de Trabajo Juvenil, or the Youth Labor Army) and above all the vivid outrages will stay with me forever.

After walking for three months among the concentration camps adjacent to the towns of San Jose Torriente and San José de Marcos, they made us return to that of Socorro en Pedro Betancourt. Supposedly from this Boom 400, which was our original camp, the suppliies assigned to us should have arrived, but we received nothing during those three months during which we wandered on some supposed mission whose high work goals were never met.

During those three months we didn’t even get a pass to go to our homes. We felt sorry for ourselves. Our clothes were dirty and ragged as could be. Most of us were walking barefoot, a few with broken boots. One of the generals named Acebedos came by for inspections and called us “the shirtless”, and a relaxed captain in the camp next to Torrientes, seemingly moved by compassion, told us — pointing at his massive gut: “Don’t be discouraged boys, I lost this belly in the army”.

On returning to our original camp, we held out the hope that things might change, but on arrival, a new unit chief met us: a Navy captain whose punishment was being sent to the EJT. And I became aware of another characterisic of this invincible army: it was the punishment site for MININT, Armed Forces, and even Navy officers.

For us, the officer’s reception was to inform us that we’d just arrived at Boom 400, and we had to earn all we asked for. An additional answer to our worries was the delivery of immense Chinese machetes, and after a miserable lunch, he made us go to some place infested with the invasive marabú weed that we had to pull up and prepare for the planting of citrus.

That was more than a humiliation. Supposedly, in those conditions we didn’t cut even one marabú, our patience having completely dripped away, so even better we organized and so it was like that night in May 1994 when, in protest, the complete squad deserted and we agreed that nobody would return for at least a week. The silent exit from the camp and the trip, one by one, through the orange orchards towards the national highway where in a matter of minutes we undertook a course towards Las Villas, were the most glorious moments of those eight months of abuse.

On our return, at least those who returned — some never did — we were subject to trial in the camp’s ampitheater, seeking an answer: “Who had been the leader?” The end of the trial consisted in the delivery of the supplies they’d deprived us of for the last eight months, our manner of nonviolent protest showed the vulnerability of those who thought they had power and made us discover that power was really in our hands.

The en masse desertion of an EJT squad had made the news all over the island and uncovered corruption in high places. Although I was liberated, that unforgettable July 28, 1994, I can’t deny that since then, orange juice runs through my veins.

Translated by: JT

12 August 2013