By Vicente Morin Aguado
HAVANA TIMES — Days before the expected visit to Cuba by Pope Benedict XVI in late March, a group of people without any special political affiliation occupied the “Basilica of Our Lady of Charity” in Havana, trying to remain in the church like asylum-seekers in an embassy.
At the same time, they demanded to present a list of demands to the Pope.
The Cuban Catholic Church didn’t accept the idea of a prolonged stay in the temple. According to the authorities, the occupants were “invited to leave by the police,” who didn’t threaten to formally charge them.
Upon being removed from the temple, they were taken to the nearest police station and subsequently returned to their homes.
The Pope came, held two Masses with massive public attendance, and returned to the Vatican. A letter was recently sent from the Holy See to Cuban President Raul Castro, from which I quote:
“I wish to express my thanks for the exquisite hospitality extended to me during the unforgettable days I spent in your country with a special remembrance in prayer, imploring the Almighty that Cuba continue advancing with determination along the paths of freedom, solidarity and harmony for the common good and a straight line of progress for all of its sons and daughters.”
“Freedom, solidarity, harmony and common good” – let’s not forget the words of the Bishop of Rome. Now it’s good to remember precedents, for forgetful minds, which seem to question what they know full well in advance.
The preceding year, Cuba went through the release of all of its “prisoners of conscience,” a process in which the Catholic Church served as a mediator. This should be highlighted, since there wasn’t any negotiation between, say, prisoners and family members on one side and the government on the other.
Obviously, not wanting to talk directly — since the offer was unilateral — the Church was the intermediary.
Also visiting Cuba during that period was the then foreign minister of Spain, Miguel Angel Moratinos. The prisoners were slowly emerging from prison, most traveling to Madrid, others to Washington, and a few (around 12 from what I understand) deciding to stay in Cuba.
It is an irrefutable truth that the Spanish foreign ministry demanded formal statements from the released prisoners about traveling to his country or any other nation saying there departures were completely voluntary.
Once again an “eagle flew over the sea,” as the current Pope made his Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre pilgrimage across the country, traveling more than 30,000 miles and being welcomed by millions of Cubans.
Then, before the Pope’s arrival, several people tried to take over the temple located in the Centro Havana neighborhood, a church specially dedicated to the patroness of Cuba (La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre).
Certainly churches aren’t embassies in which one can ask for permanent refuge or political asylum. Likewise, courts are the sole institutions that have the power to declare people criminals or not, and sentence according to the punishable offense.
All Catholic churches belong to the same state: the Vatican. Each country, including this tiny territory, has only one diplomatic headquarters in any other nation. It’s not often that the offer is made to exercise the “right of asylum,” which requires a serious analysis before it is granted.
This is reiterative, but it’s necessary to repeat that the Cuban Catholic Church is not a party of the opposition. On this matter Cardinal Jaime Lucas Ortega Alamino has said:
“The Cuban state does not have an ally or an enemy in the Church. The Church doesn’t expect any privileges. In any case, for itself, the recognition of its right to freely fulfill its mission.”
What are the opponents demanding from the current government when they say or imply that the Catholic Church in Cuba is in agreement with the Communist Party or that it works for it?
Throughout the drawn-out process of the release of Cuban political prisoners, which took months and involved more than a hundred of them, neither the secular nor ecclesiastical authorities of the country nor the foreign diplomats heard any complaints about pressures being applied against those individuals on their way to freedom.
It was a difficult moment, but the history of Cuba reveals several similar situations where those engaged in struggle felt their dignity affected in some way and they expressed their disagreement without fear of possible reprisals. I won’t cite cases, preferring not to offend anyone. Like the popular saying goes: What we know, we don’t question.
Regarding the Church’s position on Cuba, nothing has changed in the past fourteen years since, when before boarding his plane, Pope John Paul II said:
“All Cubans are called upon to contribute to the common good in a climate of mutual respect and with a deep sense of solidarity.”
Yet for now, the debate remains regarding certain controversial expressions made by Cardinal Jaime Ortega. Days will come and with them new clarities. Yet there’s one thing I’m sure about right now: God’s law doesn’t allow cheating.