When Cubans find themselves struggling with personal problems they usually prefer to visit a babalao so that they could toss their shells instead of confessing to a priest in the church. Catholicism has the most followers on the island. But the beliefs brought over by former African slaves of the XVI and XVII centuries also have many followers.
During recent times when Cubans became more and more disillusioned with the olive green revolution, believing became popular.
Together with Catholics and Santeros, Evangelists, Protestants, Baptists, and Jehovahs Witnesses, among others, have risen in numbers. The Hebrew community has also experienced a boom, as well as Masonry, Spiritualism, and those ladies who toss cards and read the palms of your hands.
But in January 1998, with the visit of Pope John Paul II to Cuba, the Catholic religion regained much of its strength. In fact, it converted Santiago de Cuba’s Archbishop, Pedro Merice Estiu (1932), into the most loved and credible figure of national Catholicism.
Maria de Jesus Gonzalez, 72, is a practicing Catholic. When she remembers the speech by monsignor Meurice on January 24, 1998, she can’t help but get teary eyed.
“I had been waiting all my life to hear those words spoken by a priest. And father Meurice spoke them in front of the Pope and of the Virgin of Charity, Cuba’s patron saint”.
The pope was received by Meurice in the plaza named after the mulatto combatant from Santiago who fought against Spanish rule- Antonio Maceo. That day the father told the pope:
“Holy Father, Cuba is a country that has an intimate calling towards solidarity, but throughout the course of its long history it has witnessed a disjointed and stranded civil society in which association and participation is restricted. I present you with the soul of a nation that longs to reconstruct the fraternity of freedom and solidarity”.
Marcelino Linares, 57 and a militant of the communist party, did not like that speech. He considers that “Meurice took advantage of the fact that he could speak before all Cubans and the world to make some noise in the system”. The paragraph that Marcelino disliked the most was precisely the one that the people liked the most.
“In addition, I present you with a growing number of Cubans who have confused Country with only one party, a nation which has gone through a historical process which we have lived through within the last decades in which culture has embedded only one ideology. They are Cubans who refuse everything at a time without discerning. They feel rootless, they refuse everything from here and overvalue everything foreign”.
Twelve years later, many Cubans would have been happy if Pedro Meurice would have been one of the hierarchs that sat down with Raul Castro to talk for four hours on May 19.
Upon asking ten people between the ages of 35 and 60, 5 men and 5 women, why they would have been happy about this, the answer was unanimous: because in him we saw the bravest of all Cuban priests, since 1959.
In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI accepted his retirement. Since then, Archbishop Emerito inhabits the Sacred Brotherhood of the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Charity in the outskirts of Santiago de Cuba.
In the farewell mass on February 18, 2007, Meurice made a calling to Catholics to work towards reconciliation and emphasized the importance of “renewing our pastoral practices…and moving away from many things that are currently happening”. It seems like God heard him.
Translated by Raul G.