The Protest of Thirteen Others / Miriam Celaya

Illustration from the Orlando Luis Pardo’s blog Lunes de Post-Revolution

A press release signed by Orlando Márquez Hidalgo was published in Granma under the title “Havana Bishopric Calls the Occupation of the Temple Illegitimate*” (Thursday March 15, 2012, page 2.). This is merely a genuine sermon from the director of the popular magazine of the Archdiocese of Havana, Palabra Nueva, against thirteen dissidents who remain in the church of La Caridad, in the capital, as he states in the same note, referring to Pope Benedict XVI’s imminent visit of to Cuba.

Given the importance of the facts stated by Mr. Márquez Hidalgo, as well as the appearance of the note itself in the newspaper that, as we all know, is the official organ of the Cuban Communist Party and, consequently, a political venue, it would have been valuable and appropriate for all readers to determine the news article’s other relevant aspects. For instance, the article makes references that the complainants carry “a message” and “a series of social demands” to the Holy Father, without stating the contents of the message and of said demands. Publishing without informing seems to be the journalistic style that the Catholic Church shares with the official press through its spokesperson. Márquez, of course, assumed that Granma would publish his admonishment against the bad Catholics only if it did not specifically contain the most important part of the event. However, what was not removed from the Archbishop’s note was a cryptic line devoted to the conciliatory attitude of governmental authorities, “who pledged not to act in any way”, which reminds us that the Cuban dictatorship has previously allowed itself the right to unceremoniously violate sacred spaces of worship, and has never apologized for it nor has it publicly been reprimanded by the Catholic authorities.

In the absence of details, we also had to rely on Orlando Marquez’s sagacity when he assures us that we are facing “a strategy developed and coordinated by groups in several regions. It is not fortuitous, but well thought out and apparently aimed at creating critical situations as the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Cuba nears”. (The emphasis belongs to this irreverent writer). The only thing missing, for a greater resemblance to the official language, was that they were directed and financed from abroad. I thank Márquez for being at least kind enough not to succumb to such a temptation, but, who can overlook that Cubans have been in critical situations for decades, not just created by our own will, and even without inconvenient dissidents occupying the places of worship?

Now then, the Templo de La Caridad remains open for religious service with these thirteen still protesting inside. Without disclosing the content of the demands, and with such controls as have been set up at the entrance to the church, it should not be said that the location is being used as “place of public political demonstration”, but rather a possible mousetrap for the petitioners as soon as the authorities decide to tear off the mask of kindness. It also occurs to me that, rightly or not, maybe this is the most effective way some Cuban groups have found in order to be heard, since they cannot count on the media to express themselves, as both the Catholic Church and the government are able to do. This signal, in itself, should be viewed by the Cuban Church’s Hierarchy as a cry for help and not as sacrilege.

I confess that perhaps because my religious circumstance makes it difficult for me to understand some of the accepted Catholic official discourse, or maybe I suffer from a kind of allergy when faced with all official discourses. For example, I don’t understand how you can serve Christ, defender of his people and indeed dissident in his time, while protecting only the powerful. Doesn’t the Cuban Catholic Church grant privilege to those who suffer the most? Aren’t dissidents precisely who are most in need of protection under dictatorship conditions? Why haven’t senior representatives of the clergy never dedicated a Mass in memory of such a worthy and admirable Cuban, Laura Pollán, or to Orlando Zapata or Wilman Villar, and have instead made fervent wishes for the health of that other bellicose and foreign leader, Hugo Chávez? Doesn’t that amount to taking political positions?

At this point, it is too hypocritical to pretend that all is well in Cuba, whether the Pope visits or not. It is also a childish lie to deny that the church is a political and not just a religious institution that has survived, though not in vain, powerful for nearly two millennia. The Bishopric’s note seems to respond more to an official demand of the Cuban government than to a feeling of true Christian faith. And just in case I’m wrong and faith calls for remaining quiet and look away; if, by virtue of that faith, Benedict XVI’s visit should be surrounded by a solemn choreography and by a cloak to hide the reality of our country, I don’t think that is the faith that Cuba needs, and may God forgive me.

Final note: March 16th. Last night, at the express request of Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the Templo de La Caridad was cleared by police forces. Testimonials from some of those involved say violence was used and the dissidents were shackled, threatened, and dragged. This is evidence that belies the supposed dialogue between the Church and the government about the latter not taking any action against the occupiers of the church. The Cardinal has not only once again unequivocally taken sides with the government, but, by the way, has left the editor of the Catholic magazine Espacio Laical in very bad standing.

*Translator’s note: The original press release does not appear on Granma‘s English language site; the link is to the follow-up press release after the protestors were removed.

Translated by Norma Whiting

March 16 2012