Letter from Padre Jose Conrado to the First Secretary of the Cuban Communist Party re the Victims of Hurricane Sandy in Santiago de Cuba

sandyMr. Lázaro Expósito
First Secretary of the Cuban Communist Party in Santiago de Cuba

Mr. Secretary:

I am writing to you in your capacity as the highest political authority in our province of Santiago de Cuba. I am aware that, given the hierarchical structure of the Church, by rights it is not for me to undertake this effort, but rather for my Archbishop, Mons. Dionisio García, and I have repeatedly suggested that he do so. But following the dictates of my conscience, and from a basic sense of personal responsibility toward our people, on the eve of my perhaps definitive separation from the people of Santiago de Cuba whom I love so much, I am addressing this letter to you.

In recent months we have experienced the tragedy of a people who have lost everything or almost everything they had to survive: as you know more than a hundred thousand Santiago de Cuba families have been affected by Hurricane Sandy. We have watched with amazement the delivery of aid for our people from so many countries.

And with amazement we watched how this aid was sold for hard currency, or at inflated prices, in flagrant violation of the the intent of the donors who gave it freely. We have received information from reliable people who have followed the trail of the transports and have seen how this aid, above all the roofs, were stored in State or military warehouses, while the population was informed that these materials had already been exhausted.

With amazement we have seen government or military installations repaired in record time, while the people continue without roofs over their heads, with their houses uncovered.

We are witnesses to the frustrations of the people, to their desperation and helplessness, to a voiceless and threatening silence that makes us think that at any moment they could explode with an uncontrollable and justified rage, which could have dire consequences for the coexistence of our citizens.

Many times, on going to offer them our humble aid, almost all of it sent by other Cubans on the rest of the island, poor as the victims themselves, we have heard, “You are the only ones who remember us, the only ones who have assisted us”!

Mr. Secretary, the people perceive you to be an honest man, who works hard to fulfill his obligations and who cares about the people. We have also heard that corruption and incompetence surround you on all sides and, much to your dismay, hinder your work. All of this saddens and worries us.

As a priest, I have renounced having my own family. Along with some of my colleagues, when our families, parents and siblings decided to abandon our country, we decided to stay to serve our people in their misfortune. These people are our family: our parents, our children, our brothers and sisters. We live for them and we are willing to die for them. If today we raise our voices, at whatever risk it might entail, including being misunderstood, it is to seek a solution to so much misery and pain, and because we are not inclined to stare at the bulls from the other side of the fence, but to commit ourselves and to help with all our strength.

I ask in the name of God, in the name of truth and justice, and calling on your true patriotism which I do not doubt, that you seriously investigate what has happened and quickly remedy it.

Padre José Conrado

Padre José Conrado

I also ask that you yourself communicate with the president of our country, General Raúl Castro Ruz, so that, with the full weight of the State, repairs can be undertaken on so many totally and partially destroyed homes, something so important for these families affected by Hurricane Sandy. The call to the solidarity of our people you have already demonstrated in your generosity and ability during the hurricane and in the face of its devastating destruction. Thus, we make possible the Nation José Martí dreamed of, “with all and for the good of all.”

Padre José Conrado Rodríguez

Translated from version appearing in Penultimos Dias

26 June 2013

A Better Quality Shadow / Lilianne Ruiz

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Antonio Rodiles, left center, Father Jose Conrado, right center

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My blog is now 4 days behind, but I was fortunate enough to be present last Monday night for the presentation of the Tolerance Plus award to Father Jose Conrado at the home of Antonio Rodiles, within hours of his release.

The release of Rodiles was undoubtedly the most important event of the week and the most anticipated by his friends. Thinner and with a blackish crescent below his lower left eyelid from the bruise caused by the beating, Rodiles returns to his home like a big brother coming home from the war wearing a star on one of his pockets that announces the triumph of the light.

That night brought the scent of others gone by, songs of warriors from another dimension of time, when Father Conrado read the words he had prepared for the occasion. Martí settling like a nocturnal butterfly over the Monday night, opening the spirit of all those gathered there so as to receive the dew which, if it comes at night, is always the dew brought by the shadow of the Holy Spirit: that of infinite possibilities.

Father Conrado, in turn, presented to Ofelia Acevedo (widow of Osvaldo Payá) the award conferred by several organizations under the umbrella of Nuevo Pais (New Country Project). It was my second time seeing the widow and I approached her, always having to suppress the desire to cry for her loss and ours.

I admired each of the persons congregated there. It felt like I was witnessing a historic evening. Beyond the outcome of our actions, the punishment with which the regime attempts to intimidate and even annihilate,those who dare oppose it, the denial by means of violence of the respect we deserve and the attempt to brush us aside as if we were nothing. Beyond the success or failure, always fleeting in a Universe governed by change, a change that will come to them like a tsunami that will sweep them up and give each the just retribution for his actions, the feeling of being in the right place, being sure that God is with us, was confirmed within me, in a part of my being which makes me stop the fabric of time and feel that we are saved.


November 30 2012

To My Cuban Brothers and Sisters in Exile / Padre Jose Conrado Rodriguez Alegre

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

In Santiago de Cuba it is just dawning. Today, Friday October 26, 2012, just 48 hours after the horrible devastation left behind Hurricane Sandy, I got up early to pray and write. Amid the sadness for so many families left destitute, as Eliseo Diego said of the man with the bundle on his back, in his “Book of the Wonders of Bologna”: “Pilgrim you go with the dusk and your poor belongings: fears, sorrows.”

So I see my people, wandering among the ruins of what little we have of which nothing is left to us. And yet, I say this with the utmost pride in my poor people, who think kindly of each other and offer their hand, and with the strength of the poor they say in the vortex of misfortune, “It doesn’t matter what we lost, we are still alive.”

Yes, I have seen many signs of solidarity, like my parishioner Tito, a young medical student, who has come to clear the debris from the houses of his neighbors and relatives, and yesterday he spent the afternoon with Pavel, his brother-in-law, saving the zinc roofing sheets lying in the patio, which we returned to the rectory roof.

My sister and her 15-year-old stepdaughter who have cleaned the first floor of the rectory, while the second is being roofed. Manolo and Mario, who despite the dangerous winds, placed the tiles to protect my books, computers and printers from the weather.

Gladis and her grandson Pedro, who were the first to arrive to lend a hand, although they still had a great deal of debris to sweep up in their own house. And Eliecer Avila, who came from Puerto Padre to help, because he could not sit there, knowing how badly things were for us here.

Yoani Sánchez and Reinaldo Escobar, who from Havana let me know they were collecting food and medicine for the victims. My brother Roberto Betancourt, who from his parish of Caridad sent me the warmth of his flock, as did Ophelia Lamadrid, with her ninety years, and Teresita de la Paz, the widow of Gustavo Arcos Bergnes, who pray for me and for my people. They have told me about the mobilization you have already started to send aid “so much more urgent now that our need is so great.”

My beloved brothers and sisters: from this distance and immersed in supreme suffering after the inevitable and disarming misfortune, I say from my heart, that I have felt, in all this time of uncertainty and bitterness, when the roof blow off my parish and my home, running to save the books and what I could from the rain and afterwards, when I could go out and see the desolation of my people, I felt your presence, your prayers and the solidarity of all of you.

I knew that we were not alone and that we could count on the the love and support of all of you, of all our friends, Cubans and otherwise, who from far away accompanied us with your prayers and your love.

In particular, when I went to pray for an elderly woman who died of a heart attack in the midst of the storm, sheltered in a small bathroom, with her daughter, granddaughter and her two little great-grandchildren in a house flying to pieces through the air, her heart could not resist so much anguish and exploded. Mine bleeds for all the misfortune of my people.

The city lies in ruins. My old parish of San Antonio María Claret, in the neighborhood of Sueño, collapsed. Only the Christ that I one day put on the wall of the chancel, stood as a silent witness along with the granite altar that stood there for 30 years.

So did my old church of San Pedrito, whose repair almost cost me prison. Just as my beloved town of San Luis, where I was born to the faith and then began my pastoral work as a priest, and whose new marble altar was consecrated in solemn ceremony less than a month ago. And this has happened with almost all churches, rectories and convents throughout the diocese … They lie in ruins, they are homeless or have been seriously damaged.

But what is it, I wonder, before the suffering of so many people who have lost everything: the effort of entire lives and even generations, transformed into offal dripping mud and dust. So too the books, televisions, and other household appliances, furniture… and the house!

It is calculated that 150,000 houses are destroyed or seriously damaged. And this in the midst of such a difficult economic situation, virtually of survival! We felt that we were so badly off… and now we are much worse!

But back to my memory, the first sentence I said, and that I have heard from so many mouths: But we are alive!  Thanks be to God for the life that He gives us and for keeping us, because it is amazing that in the midst of so much devastation the dead have been so few. What does God want to say to us with all this?

Father José Conrado Rodríguez Alegre
Santiago de Cuba

Translated from Cubanet on 5 November 2012

TANGIBLE WAYS TO HELP — CLICK HERE.

Father Conrado’s earlier letter to Raul Castro.