Two Pastoral Letters in 20 Years of Cuban History

Dariela Aquique

Stained glass at the new Catholic seminary on the outskirts of Havana.

HAVANA TIMES — Argentinean tango legend Carlos Gardel had it wrong. “Twenty years is nothing” may work as the poetic lyrics of a tango, but for a country, twenty years may also be next to nothing, a few short minutes in the clock of history.

However, measured against the lives of a country’s individual men and women, twenty years is a long time – a good part of, or half of, or even an entire lifetime. In the span of twenty years, people grow old, get sick, die, and lose hope.

For those who have embraced some kind of faith, no matter what religion or creed they espouse, phrases such as “love bears all” or “hope does not disappoint” are not mere, ready-made platitudes.

The issuing of the pastoral letter titled “Love Bears All” and the recent missive written by Cuba’s Catholic Bishops Conference, titled “Hope Does Not Disappoint”, are separated by exactly twenty years.

Dated September 8, 2013, the day of the Caridad del Cobre Virgin (Cuba’s patron saint), this most recent pastoral letter opens with a greeting, transcribed below:

 “Beloved brothers and sisters, as part of the celebrations for the Year of Faith, the bishops of Cuba reach out to you, to the priests, deacons, believers, laics and all the people of Cuba, so as to share with you this pastoral letter that seeks to make the faith that burns in our hearts, the faith that animates all individuals and peoples, shine all the brighter. This invitation to hope stems from our Christian faith, from goodwill and from the need and duty to seek out among Cubans a better future for all.”

The missive is divided into several sections (each with its own heading) where religious appeals and civic demands are woven into a single message. Under the heading “Changes inspire hope among our people”, we find remarks of this nature:

 “Cuba has changed in recent years; its present does not resemble its past. Today’s Cubans also do not resemble the Cubans of twenty or forty years ago. This is entirely normal (…) Several of the demands made in the pastoral letter titled “Love Bears All”, written by Cuba’s bishops in 1993, have already been satisfied. Others are still pending.”

In the section titled “The hope of a better future includes the hope of a new political order”, we read: “Cuba is being called on to become a pluralistic society. Cuba is the sum of many different realities. In other words, Cuba is the nation of all Cubans, of people who are different and have different aspirations (though this has not always been understood). We must have the right to diversity in terms of thought, creativity and the search for truth. The need for dialogue springs from diversity.”  

That these remarks should be followed by statements such as “a dialogue among Cubans traces a road to hope” or “Cuba in the great concert of nations: a reason for hope,” is far from accidental.

Generally speaking, this pastoral missive is nothing more than a message of faith and a means of spreading the “word of God”, as interpreted by the Catholic Church. It is a celebration of unity and an expression of hope in a better future for our nation.

It is very similar to its predecessor, save in a number of details, such as its comments regarding recent events of importance for the Church and its congregation, namely, the visit of John Paul II, under the epithet of “A Messenger of Truth and Hope”, in 1998, and of Emeritus Pope Benedict VXI, the “Pilgrim of Charity”, in the spring of 2011.

The letter also acknowledges the implementation of a number of measures or reforms that have brought positive change to the country’s economic, social and, to a certain degree, political spheres (something I don’t entirely agree with, as I see no real change anywhere).

For people like me, non-religious types that have something of a problem with this business of faith, the future cannot depend entirely on hope and patience. Are we to content ourselves with the five or six steps forward taken in these last fifty years? How long do we have to wait for three or four more of such steps?

I respect and support this pastoral letter and invite all Cubans to read it. My non-religious nature, however, is stronger than me. I am positive that some of the bishops who wrote the first epistle, “Love Bears All”, are no longer with us.

They did not live to see the changes. Twenty years had to pass and, now, telling us that “hope does not disappoint”, today’s bishops continue to make petitions and demands. Will we get to see a third, making the same demands? Gardel had it wrong. In Cuba, twenty years is far too long.

To be continued…

Dariela Aquique

Dariela Aquique: I remember my years as a high school student, especially that teacher who would interrupt the reading of works and who with surprising histrionics spoke of the real possibilities of knowing more about the truth of a country through its writers than through historical chronicles. From there came my passion for writing and literature. I had excellent teachers (sure, those were not the days of the Fast-track Teachers) and extemporization and the non-mastery of subjects was not tolerated. With humble pretenses, I want to contribute to revealing the truth about my country, where reality always overcomes fiction, but where a novel style shrouds its existence.

2 thoughts on “Two Pastoral Letters in 20 Years of Cuban History

  • Not all Cuban church groups offer such tepid pastoral letters. This group of Cuban churches has made a far more direct call for religious freedom and an end to persecution:

    “Cuban church leaders publish joint declaration on religious freedom”

    Cuban religious leaders finished a visit to Washington DC last week by publishing a paper titled, “Thirty Questions for the Cuban Government.”

    According to a news release from human rights group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), Reverend Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso, Missionary Yoaxis Marcheco Suarez and Apostle Omar Gude Perez drafted the statement and questions which they say show that freedom of religion or belief is not respected in Cuba.

    The members of the group, who represent both a legally recognised, historic religious organisation and a newer religious movement considered by the Cuban government to be illegal, spent a week in Washington DC in a visit facilitated by Christian Solidarity Worldwide,

    They met with policy makers and NGOs to brief them on continued violations of freedom of religion or belief in Cuba.

    The declaration and questions outline the most pressing concerns raised by the group. CSW said they include the government’s continued refusal to extend official recognition to newer religious groups, the approval or denial of legal rights to registered groups based on perceived political support and cooperation, and the sweeping au thority over religious organisations and activities held by the Office of Religious Affairs (ORA) of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party.

    The group pointed to mass arrests during the visit of Pope Benedict XVI and new restrictions. They include a decree that as of Jan. 2014, churches and religious groups will no longer be able to hold individual bank accounts and existing accounts must be consolidated into one per denomination or organisation. That is proof, the group said, that the government is not interested in true reforms protecting freedom of religion or belief.

    CSW said that Missionary Marcheco, a blogger and professor at the Luis Manuel Gonzalez Peña Baptist Theological Seminary, also pointed to excessive government intrusiveness into the internal affairs of religious organisations. He said that the minutes and decisions of every internal meeting must be turned over for the approval of ORA.

    Apostle Gude Perez, a national leader of the fast growing charismatic church group the Apostolic Movement, expressed frustration at the continued harassment of churches affiliated with his group (supposedly because of their unregistered status), at the hands of the same officials who have denied their repeated attempts to register.

    While the group was composed of Protestant leaders, CSW said they pointed out that other groups, including Catholics and Afro-Cuban religious groups suffer the same abuses. They pointed out Jehovah’s Witnesses as an example of a group that suffers particularly severe persecution.

    CSW’s Senior Advocate Matthew Jones said in the news release, “CSW was privileged to facilitate the visit of these three religious leaders … last week, and continues to be impressed by their courage and persistence in speaking out to challenge the claims of Raul Castro that religious freedom is respected in Cuba. We ask the international community to listen to their request for pressure on the regime to make … changes to ensure the protection of fundamental human rights, including freedom of religion or belief.”

  • Dariela is half right. The half she is missing is the ‘works’. James 2:14-26 in the NKV bible reads, “14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” Thus, to sit around and wait for something to happen all the while doing nothing is not the point either.

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