14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 27 October 2017 — “The Catholic Church in Cuba has a future of hope because despite the forces that have wanted to sow hatred in the Cuban nation, love has always triumphed.” This was the central message of Father José Conrado Rodríguez, presbyter of the church of San Francisco de Paula in Trinidad, during the presentation of his book Dreams and Nightmares of a Priest in Cuba in Miami on Thursday.
“That is the great victory of Cuba and Cubans: they wanted to separate us, they physically separated us, but they could never separate this people from love. We loved each other and we love each other and we will continue to love each other despite all the isolation and sowing of mistrust. Love has conquered,” the priest said with deep emotion.
The amphitheater of the American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora was small for the more than 150 people who came to the presentation of a book defined by the author as “intimate,” with passages related to the history of the Cuban Church of which he has been an eyewitness.
“I carry in my chest the cross of the pains of my people,” said Rodríguez, recalling the words he delivered in his first Eucharist when he carried a cross made from the wood of the presidio to which the revolutionary government confined the Catholic priest Miguel Ángel Loredo for ten years.
The genesis of the book reflects the deep controversy surrounding this man who is able to confront the authorities of the island and his own pastors to ask for more freedom for the people of Cuba.
“It is not a coherent book. These are different times and that is what I want to be clear about,” Rodriguez said. The idea of writing the book came after a request from a professor at the San Gimignano Institute in Italy specializing in religious sociology, who had previously asked for an analysis of the situation of the Church in Cuba from Cardinal Jaime Ortega. The contrast between the experiences of Ortega and Rodriguez led the professor to seek the vision of a priest of the people to compare to that of the cardinal.
“My vocation as a priest is to serve the poorest and most needy, those whom they turn their backs to because they are committed,” recalled the priest, who in 1994 wrote an open letter to Cuban leader Fidel Castro and in 2009 did the same to his brother Raul.
“The economic crisis affects all households and causes people to live anxiously wondering: What am I going to eat or what am I going to wear? How am I going to get the most elemental things for my family? The difficulties of everyday life become so overwhelming that they keep us mired in sadness and hopelessness,” said the letter sent to the Plaza of the Revolution to which he never received a reply.
The book Dreams and Nightmares of a Priest in Cuba begins with a prologue by Felipe J. Estévez, bishop of San Agustín, Florida. The prelate praised the “creative fidelity” of the Cuban priest in the years of hard persecution against the Catholic faith that followed the triumph of the Revolution in 1959.
“To build bridges between people, institutions, different points of view, to be a meeting place for a diverse people, his being a priest of Christ has been and is an essential part of his life,” said the bishop.
Rodríguez then presented a panorama of “the Castro brothers’ Cuba” during his forty years of priesthood, followed by his reflections on the need for reform of the Cuban Church and a project to accomplish it. The book also has three interviews on the need for the Cuban Church to be bolder, along with some reflections on the situation of the Island at the present time.
“This book says very serious things, including the learned hopelessness, perhaps the worst evil affecting Cubans at this time, the feeling that they can not do anything to change their lives,” said the director of the American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora, Ileana Fuentes.
“This soul of a wounded people is the worst thing that Castroism has left us,” she added.
The editor of the text, Manuel Salvat, highlighted the book’s autobiography. “This is a priest who has studied a lot and is very well informed, putting everything at the service of God and his people. This book is an essential tool to know the present and the future of the country,” he added. “In this difficult town that is Cuban Miami everyone wants a copy,” he said visibly excited.
For her part, the former director of el Nuevo Herald Miriam Marquez said that the first and only time the Cuban government let her enter the island Father Conrado allowed her to see the reality of the island beyond what officialdom showed.
For Jorge Graña, producer for the Catholic Television Network EWTN and a former seminarian in Santiago de Cuba, Rodríguez represents the prophetic role in the Cuban Church. “The Prophet is not the one who predicts the future, but the man of truth, who carries the voice in his heart and consoles and encourages the people. That is José Conrado,” he said.
“Long before Pope Francis asked the shepherds ‘to realize that we too are sheep’, José Conrado would go to the outskirts and feel the pain of the people. The sheep know who their pastor is and that is why so many follow him.”