A Way of the Cross Marked by Emigration and Tensions with the Communist Party of Cuba

The image of the Nazarene runs through Aguiar, under the poster of the municipal committee of the Communist Party / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez / Juan Izquierdo, Havana, 30 March 2024 — The most significant station of the Way of the Cross held in Old Havana this Friday, when dozens of Catholics took to the streets under the tense gaze of the Police, occurred on the block of the municipal committee of the Communist Party. The image of the Nazarene went through Aguiar Street and passed under the red and black sign of the same institution that restricted Holy Week with prohibitions in several provinces of the Island.

It was a procession with few faithful and a lot of vigilance. Presided over by Cardinal Juan García, there were more members of the clergy – Franciscan friars, seminarians and missionaries of the Charity of Teresa of Calcutta – and of the security forces than there were the believers who participated in it. However, the religious figures were able to leave at 6:00 pm from the parish of the Christ of the Good Journey to Cathedral Square.

Believers and officers were asked to “give space” to the figures and those who led the procession. “Why do they have so much security if people keep cutting through it,” one of the clerics said sarcastically. Before starting the procession, the priests thanked the “photographers, cameramen and the press” for their presence. “What a pleasure that you are here, because it is a pleasure to see the faith of the people,” they added.

Closely watched by the Police, the Way of the Cross procession leaves from the Buenviaje Church of Christ / 14ymedio

El Cristo and La Dolorosa, on the shoulders of the well-dressed parishioners, traveled around the damaged streets of Old Havana. Behind the figures, a bus with a bullhorn amplified the prayers of the cardinal and the faithful, who asked for “forgiveness” for the Cuban people. The reflections on the Passion of Christ – usual in the celebration – put the emphasis on comparing, although subtly, the suffering of Cubans with that of the first Christians.

It attributed to the soldiers who crucified Christ an abuse of their “right to coercion”; it alluded to the “spectacle of suffering” that becomes customary. Believers were asked to “approach the persecuted” and hear “the subtle voice of conscience” about the imprisoned. “The Way of the Cross of bitterness is not a civil act but a religious act,” the priests said aloud, and among them were voices critical of the regime such as Jorge Luis Pérez Soto and Kenny Fernández.

Priest Kenny Fernández in the foreground along with other members of the clergy in Cathedral Square / 14ymedio

More people joined when night fell and the symbolic body of Christ reached the Church of the Angel to be buried. Decorated with garlands and lights strung on balconies, the streets that lead to the Plaza del Ángel – in addition to the concert band that accompanied the parishioners – animated the procession.

Decimated by the emigration of a large part of the young Catholics of Havana and by the population in general, this Friday’s Way of the Cross was less emotional than that of previous years. The tensions between the Communist Party and several parish priests, such as the Dominican Lester Zayas, prevented the local Via Crucisis, smaller than the one held in Old Havana, from being carried out.

The procession marches, now at night, towards the Church of the Angel, where the Holy Burial is celebrated / 14ymedio

Interviewed by EFE about the limitations imposed on the parish of the Sacred Heart in El Vedado, which he attends, Zayas again said that his sermons on the Cuban crisis made the authorities uncomfortable and are the cause of the prohibition. “People say that priests can’t be involved in politics. And it’s true, if by politics we mean partisan politics, but if we understand politics as something social, then it is possible to talk about the Gospel. A priest can’t stand at the pulpit and talk about the Heaven that is going to arrive if we can’t transform what happens on Earth, where we have children who go to school without breakfast because they don’t have milk,” he said.

He added that what happened this week in several parishes throughout Cuba – especially in the dioceses of Santa Clara, Havana and Bayamo-Manzanillo – is an “attack on religious freedom.” However, the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba announced that 111 celebrations, including Good Friday and Easter Sunday, were authorized by the Communist Party.

Holy Week has stirred up the unease of Cuban Catholics with the Government. While several priests, such as Fernández and Zayas in Havana, and Castor Álvarez and Alberto Reyes in Camagüey defend their right to criticize – as citizens and clerics – the situation on the Island, the Bishops’ Conference has remained in a certain lethargy and has not issued pastoral letters that, at another time, were their instrument to urge the rulers to change.

The frustrated negotiations for the release of political prisoners, the Vatican’s approaches to Miguel Díaz-Canel and the cordiality of the ecclesiastical leadership with the authorities of the Government and the Party make a critical turn of the bishops unlikely. Despite this, some isolated voices of the Conference, such as that of the Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba, Dionisio García, have spoken out about the poverty, shortages and blackouts that led to the March 17 protests, with a focus on his archdiocese.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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