14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 22 May 2016 – In a packed cathedral with screens showing the mass for those who couldn’t enter the temple, Havana’s new Archbishop, Juan de la Caridad Rodriguez, took possession of his new post this Sunday. The successor to Jaime Ortega y Alamino delivered a homily in which he acknowledged he was “scared” the face of so much responsibility.
“You will understand that I’m scared” and “do not understand the mystery of why I’m here,” said the prelate who also enumerated his wishes that Cubans might “live in peace, eat in peace, work and study in peace, and die in peace.. For which “we dream that no one touches anyone, no one hits anyone, no one, nobody hurts anyone.”
A multitude waited for García Rodríguez from the early hours of the morning in the vicinity of the church. At the front door of the Cathedral Cardinal Ortega y Alamino awaited him, and he opened the ceremony with the crozier in his hands, subsequently handing it over to the new archbishop. On June 29 Pope Francisco will deliver to him in Rome the pallium, a liturgical ornament appropriate to his status.
For Marcia, 66, “it begins a new era for our church and I hope he will bring harmony and respect,” she told this newspaper. Christian and very attentive to ecclesiastical life, the woman notes that “there are high expectations among those who frequently come to this church and people have received the appointment with joy.”
The ceremony on Sunday was attended by several Cuban bishops of various dioceses and the Archbishop of Miami, Thomas Wenski. Government representation was headed by the Vice President of the State Council, Salvador Valdes Mesa and Caridad Diego, head of the Office of Religious Affairs of the Central Committee of the Communist Party.
Along with parishioners who usually attend Sunday Mass in Havana’s main church, numerous foreign press correspondents, tourists passing through town and dozens of onlookers also gathered. “This is a historic moment and I came to take pictures and send them to my relatives in Tampa,” a young history student at the University of Havana explained to 14ymedio.
A group of faithful Catholics from the Camaguey region also came to the church. “I am very proud that one of our own has come so far,” Mauritius, age 58 and a resident in Sibanicú told this newspaper. He added, “it has been known for years now that this priest was destined for great challenges.”
Garcia Rodriguez, who served as bishop of Camaguey, was appointed in April by Pope Francis as the new archbishop of Havana. The appointment came after the pope accepted the resignation of former archbishop of the city, Jaime Ortega y Alamino, who had passed the age of 75 years, which is the limit set in the Code of Canon Law.
During the Mass on Sunday a message sent by Pope Francis from the Vatican was read, in which he explained his decision and said that Garcia Rodriguez is “endowed with recognized intellectual and moral qualities,” in addition to enjoying “a wide expertise in the exercise of the pastoral work.”
Born in 1948, the new archbishop of Havana was appointed priest in 1972 and joined the parish of Morón and Ciego de Avila. He was also pastor of Jatibonico and Florida, as well as the founder and director of the School for Missionaries in the diocese of Camagüey, for which was named archbishop in 2002.
Garcia has stressed that he expects his episcopate to serve to increase the dialogue with the Cuban government, so that “the Church can be present in spaces that belong to them, such as education, the media and prison ministry.”