Padre Conrado: “The Church has the responsibility of accompanying the people in new pathways” / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

José Conrado Rodríguez receiving the Patmos Institute Award
José Conrado Rodríguez receiving the Patmos Institute Award

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 8 November 2015 –To a long list of awards and accolades received by the priest José Conrado Rodríguez Alegre, the Patmos Institute Prize has been added, awarded last week by the Baptist church. The pastor said that in his life he has made “a personal journey of great friendship with my Protestant brothers.” About this ecumenical attitude and the current situation of the Catholic Church in Cuba he offered this interview by telephone from the city of Trinidad.

Escobar. Some weeks after the visit of Pope Francis to Cuba, what do you think has been the most important legacy of his visit to the island?

Conrado. It was an extraordinary experience for all of us, Catholics and Cubans in general. Francis made a call for a more committed life, more faithful to justice and truth, but also invited us to live more committed to mercy. He has called us to see the faces of those who are suffering, who are waiting for a helping hand, one breath. He has demonstrated that attitude of closeness to the most needy, the poorest, the elderly, children. continue reading

Escobar. The Cuban church is bound to face some changes with the end of Jaime Ortega y Alamino’s tenure as Archbishop of Havana. How do you envision this new stage to come?

sacerdote-Jose-Conrado-Rodriguez-Alegre_CYMIMA20151108_0001_11Conrado. The current times demand from us a more intense presence at the side of the people, a greater commitment with the people and at the side of the people. I would say these are moments of a new sensitivity to respond to the call of our people, who have lived through very difficult times. Our people have had to face great difficulties over the years and the Church has the responsibility of accompanying the people along these new pathways. This requires a new inspiration, a renewed ability to seek paths of hope that will lead us to the responsibility of each person to achieve a better Cuba.

Escobar. You worked for a long time in the poor neighborhoods and towns of Santiago de Cuba, but now you are located in Trinidad, a more prosperous city thanks to tourism. What differences do you see between one community and the other?

Conrado. In Trinidad there is also great poverty, especially in the countryside. It is a region of contrasts. Some people are surviving with a little more resources, but there is also great need. As a consequence, people see things in a material way, and they turn a little more to resolving material problems and so often forget life’s spiritual dimension and a commitment to others.

Escobar. You just received the prize from the Patmos Institute which is a Baptist organization. Is it possible to reconcile religious differences for the good of Cuba?

Conrado. Yes, there is no doubt. When one adopts an attitude of true love. Love does not exclude, love includes. Love crosses borders and breaks down the walls that separate humans.

Escobar. How do you value this award?

Conrado. I am very pleased that people of another Christian denomination positively assess my behavior, but above all that they have done so thinking of Cuba.

Escobar. What do you think are the greatest challenges facing the Catholic Church in Cuba today?

Conrado. The challenge of fighting for justice, of solidarity with those who have violated your rights, or living overwhelmed and drowned by the weight of a very difficult life. Seeking ways in which people make their decisions but without forgetting others, without forgetting this dimension of openness to love that must always be present in the Christian.

Escobar. What kind of work are you doing from your parish?

Conrado. We help children by giving lunch at noon to those who live far from school. Many rural classrooms have had to close for economic reasons and then the children must attend school in the larger towns, but they live far away and returning home to eat could mean that they can not return for the afternoon session. It is a real problem.

We also visit the sick, we take care of them. Support for prisoners and families of prisoners is part of our work. We are there, in those situations where human beings are helpless, suffering injustice, without being heard. Pastoral work is accompanying, listening, paying attention, being there for people.

“Paya Was An Example Of Dedication And Persistence” / 14ymedio

Oswaldo Payá holding the Transitional Program for political change in Cuba. (EFE)
Oswaldo Payá holding the Transitional Program for political change in Cuba. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 22 July 2015 — Three years after the death of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero, 14ymedio has collected the opinions of some Cuban activists who knew the leader of the Christian Liberation Movement. They is people who shared with him projects and risks, who admired or were inspired by his civic labor. Let these seven testimonies serve to approach the legacy of a man who devoted his best years to achieving greater rights and freedoms for the citizenry.

Father José Conrado

He has left us a testimony of life, a consistent life in service to his people, a courageous life that knew how to respond to the difficulties and the circumstances of the times. A life true to his convictions of faith and his love for his country until his last moment. It is a testimony that we will never forget and at the same time something to be deeply grateful for, because men like him are the ones who are needed, men like him are those who build a people from within.

Martha Beatriz Roque

It is very difficult to summarize in a few lines his life and the legacy he left us. First of all we have to note his actions as a father, a husband and a member of the Catholic Church. He knew how to pass on an excellent education for his children and to sow love in his family. Now we have Rosa María [his daughter], who is continuing his struggle and also persevering in seeing that justice is done for those who murdered him. His life’s companion, Ofelita, is doing the same thing.

Payá witnessed in favor of democracy and his legacy is reflected in the continuity of his work. These men who have acted with dignity in life, in times as difficult as those we Cubans have had to live through, one can say they have not died, they continue with us.

Jose Daniel Ferrer

I always had great respect and great affection for him, and joined in with the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) for many years, especially on Project Varela. I would like to highlight one way he is remembered in the eastern region, especially in the province of Santiago de Cuba. The term that we are referred to by, whether we are members of UNPACU, of CID, of the Republican Party, the Citizens for Democracy, or any other organization, is “Varelistas” [“supporters of Project Varela”], and not because of a direct relation to Felix Verala, who well deserves it for his contribution to Cuban nationality, but precisely because of Project Varela, which not only collected thousands of signatures at that time, but also left a lasting impact.

So that is what people call us there and, on occasion, even our worst enemies do. So every time they call us Varelistas, they are remembering Payá.

Dagoberto Valdes

The first thing I want to point out about the legacy Oswaldo left us is the integrity of one person who throughout his life remained consistent with what he thought and believed. Secondly, he left us what in my view is the most important civic exercise of the last decades: the Varela Project. Third, he left us the perseverance of a man who believed in the cause of freedom and democracy for Cuba and who dedicated his entire life to it.

Pastor Mario Felix Lleonart

His legacy goes far beyond even the Christian Liberation Movement he founded. His precious heritage belongs to Cuba and is found in the shared yearning for democracy and respect for human rights, for all individuals who think as he thought. For this he will always be respected. When Cuba can enjoy democracy, he will not be with is, but his teachings will be.

Felix Navarro Rodriguez

He was a great leader in the peaceful Cuban opposition because he accomplished what no one had been able to accomplish, which was to collect those thousands of signatures supporting Project Varela and doing it within the very laws of Cuba.

Still today I feel I see him, with the enthusiasm that characterized him, seeking unity among Cubans so that we can manage the change in a peaceful way, so that the people would be the owners of their own opinions and be able to put their rights into practice. It fills us with great satisfaction to have been able to be at the side of a man like him at those moments before the Black Spring of 2003, and to continue working with his daughter Rosa María today.

Miriam Leyva

He was a very self-sacrificing person who was characterized by believing in what he was doing. He was convinced that he could fight for a better life for Cubans to achieve progress and democracy for Cuba. He was a practicing Catholic and also a tireless worker. In his specialty, medical equipment repair, he was acknowledged and respected, not only in his workplace but in all public health facilities where he went to provide services.

Payá was an example of self-sacrifice and above all persistence, so his legacy extends beyond the MCL and Project Varela; an example as a human being, as a Cuban. That is what remains in my memory and I appreciate all the years I knew him in the midst of such difficult situations.

A Better Quality Shadow / Lilianne Ruiz

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


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


Father Conrado’s earlier letter to Raul Castro.