HAVANA TIMES — “The party’s over” was the reply of the new Pope, who marked his first public appearance as the newly elected Bishop of Rome. With this, Francis refused to comply with the complicated ritual of putting on the formal outfit worn by previous Pontiffs at their respective times of presentation to the Eternal City.
The Pope has given signals of his open questioning of a hierarchically designed ossified structure while calling for evangelical modes of humility and horizontality. This was demonstrated by his personally paying to stay in a modest hotel room (instead of the Vatican palace), riding in a Popemobile without bulletproof glass, and washing the feet of a group of prisoners in one of the youth prisons in Rome.
Caution – for the moment these are only signs. Commentators in the know are giving us a heads up that it’s unlikely that the new successor to Apostle Peter will meddle with the traditionalist positions of the Roman Catholic Church regarding social issues now marked by tragedy and despair – such as abortion, the rights of people who are LGBTI or the use of contraceptives.
Nevertheless, he has clearly delivered an accurate message that questions what is traditionally meant by the establishment, authoritarianism and hierarchy (in the broad sense, not only in the clerical realm, such as with the command-control system that first emerged in ancient Egypt, the same country that experienced the Exodus led by Moses).
Still, this is only one message. I don’t know what actions will come or how consistent they may be in the current context of the Catholic Church and the world.
Almost simultaneously with the inauguration of Francis, the Cuban magazine Espacio Laical (belonging to a cultural center of Havana’s Roman Catholic Archdiocese) published an interesting paper signed by the Laboratorio Casa Cuba.
The new document isn’t just a “screen saver”; rather, it’s a serious set of proposals to discuss the future of Cuban society. In it, a critical eye will inevitably detect ideas for Republican restructuration based on a non-authoritarian design, with authority flowing from below, from the “grassroots,” through subsidiary channels of “mutual support.”
Is this an interesting coincidence or a signal attuned to what the new Pope is sending from the Vatican? Obviously, I don’t intend to assign the capacity of “oracles” to the people associated with the Laboratorio. While the document was being developed, no one knew who would be chosen by the summit of Cardinals.
In a later note, the Laboratorio declared “this is not a Catholic project.” Instead, it’s an ecumenical one, in the broadest sense of the word. It’s not an “organ of the Church” – but let’s remember that “ekklesia” means nothing other than the name of the sovereign assembly of the people of Athens.
This is the same “extended” ecumenism that was discussed at the recent ceremony of the Via Crusis, led by Francis.
In recent years, the Espacio Laical magazine has been instrumental in the opening of Cuba to the world and of the world to Cuba (expressing the wish of the previous Pope).
Its editors (Roberto Veiga and Lenier González) have had to “jamar cable” (“work hard,” in the popular Cuban lexicon), but they and others have managed to give birth to a vehicle of unprecedented intellectual and spiritual exchange between people of diverse ideologies.
It’s a veritable “total social fact” (make no mistake: “total” not as in Mussolini, but as in Marcel Mauss), oblivious to all fundamentalism or to the unconditional following of the doctrines of authority. It’s a medium that cannot be considered as “change in itself,” but for many well-trained commentators it’s currently the best magazine of debate that’s published in the country.
It’s a magazine that very respectfully confronts traditional structures (the institutionality that as a system of command-and-control first emerged in ancient Egypt and has not governed only in the religious environment). Likewise, it encourages healthy debate on the present and the future of our country.
It’s a magazine that shows that controversy isn’t bad as long as it reveres dignity.
It’s a magazine that for Cuba now represents an opening that’s somehow analogous to that in the universal Roman Catholic Church, where believers hope a similar opening occurs under the Jesuit pontificate of Francis.
Both Cuba and the universal Catholic Church need changes…ones for the better.
Hope alone does not create change: action must be taken. Nevertheless hope is a powerful catalyst for those who can be the architects of such changes.
We all depend on mere signals becoming realities.
The new Pope is only beginning his pontificate, and with it we’ll have opportunities to confirm the consistency between his signals and his actions.
The Cuban magazine Espacio Laical — which I think is in perfect harmony with the signals made by Francis — has already emerged as a leading and active reality in today’s Cuba.
Its main architects — Robert and Lenier — are also opening a new era of dialogue in which the winds of change are blowing. Let’s welcome these new signs and always insist that the changes we need are changes for the better.
* The writer of these lines is an Eastern Orthodox Christian. I’m not in ecclesial communion with the Pope of Rome, but still I’m interested in what happens among our Western brothers.