The Challenges of a Visit / Luis Felipe Rojas

Sanctuary of the Virgin of Charity of el Cobre

Considering the current situation of Cuba, we can conclude that the social scenario where the government, the peaceful opposition, and the Catholic Church should move together has been excessively strained.

On one hand, the governing apparatus of General-President Raul Castro has released a television spot in allusion to the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the island, but the faithful say that it is still too little, alleging that there are “no public posters and it is nowhere near the social euphoria which John Paul II carried with him”, a layman in charge of communications for the Archbishopric of Santiago de Cuba told the Diario de Cuba newspaper.

In the provinces of Las Tunas, Granma, and Holguin, faithful churchgoers have assured that the lists of people who will be allowed to visit the Pope will be directly controlled by personnel of the Government or the Communist Party of Cuba, as well the fact that “a member of the Communist Party municipal committee will be placed in each bus, accompanying the pilgrims”. This has produced a certain unrest among those who cannot see the purpose of this, considering that it is not a visit with a political agenda, as the ecclesiastical and state authorities have stated. Meanwhile, on the other hand, it is nearly impossible that a Communist militant can spiritually “accompany” a Christian.

Interviewed Catholic sources in Guantanamo and Banes assure that, along with their names they also had to turn in a list with their ID number- information which they have to check as soon as they board the bus.

The events which occurred nearly a week ago in the Charity Church of Havana has helped strain how the Church and the peaceful oppositions see each other.

What is true is that during the last years there has been a decrease in the promotion of the Social Doctrine of the Church, which has become pending homework for churches. The vertical reinforcement that is the Catholic structure in all sectors, far from strengthening the bonds with the people, has created an emerging elite, for today they now talk about “the men and women of the Church”, a term referring to laymen with some sort of responsibility and many hours under the wing of the bishops, sacristy, pastors, parish advisors, and diocesans.

The call of Pope John Paul II for “the Church to open up to the world”, is a message we are remembering now. It was in the most literal form possible, without any hermeneutics in the middle. Opening up to the world, but also opening up to the community.

Dissidents on the island and the Ladies in White have, in their respective parishes, been welcomed with love by brave priests and some loyal churchgoers after the new tactics of marching weekly. But they have been looked upon with suspicion by the practitioners which shield themselves behind the idea that the Church is no place for political issues. In it, one can see a total lack of compromise with the world of pain, commented Ruben who was a pastor in his community for several years.

The letter Gaudium et spes from the Vatican II Council expresses: “We have to overcome all forms of discrimination of fundamental rights of people, whether they be social or cultural, for reasons of sex, race, color, social condition, language or religion”.

The current grudge against the dissidents who seek the Church as a form of support in their marginalized and persecuted lives is not seen against the Communist militants who, from the beginning of the 90′s, were authorized by the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of Cuba to take over Catholic, Evangelical, or Spiritualist Centers.

The vilification of the internal dissidence conducted by the political police has caught on in society to the point that a certain sector of the laity and the Catholic community in general see them as a threat to their peace and tranquility.

Today, the opinions vary among those who remained outside the pilgrimage lists. Many would have liked to have seen a better management on behalf of the Catholic hierarchy in regards to the assurance of transportation. In sum, Ruben adds, “the Virgin of Charity’s encounter is with the people of Cuba, and not just the Catholic churchgoers”.

The scene is already set, but the Universal Church gains little if Cubans, absorbed by the Papal visit, forget that at the center of all this is the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the apparition of the Virgin of Charity who, confessions and militancies aside, many consider to be “the Mother of all Cubans”.

This article was written by Luis Felipe Rojas for ‘Diario de Cuba‘.

Translated by Raul G.

24 March 2012