In a press conference held on Wednesday in the Cuban capital after a meeting with President Raúl Castro, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the Archbishop of Havana, explained that among the topics covered at the meeting were the White Ladies, a group protesting the captivity of their husbands in the country, and political prisoners.
In regard to prisoners, he said, one cannot jump to conclusions about when they will be released or when the government will take concrete actions, but the cardinal affirmed that “the topic is being dealt with seriously.”
The Wednesday meeting was held between President Raul Castro, Caridad Diego Bello, Head of the Cuban Communist Party Central Committee’s Office of Religious Affairs; Cardinal Jaime Ortega and Archbishop Dionisio García, President of Cuba’s Catholic Bishops’ Conference.
Before the journalists’ questions began at the conference, Cardinal Ortega explained that the meeting with President Castro cannot be viewed as an act of compromise. Instead, he noted, their discussion led to a series of conversations “that had a magnificent beginning and which ought to continue.”
The discussions at one point touched on the topic of political prisoners and the White Ladies, a group of women who protest the fact that their husbands are being held captive as political prisoners by demonstrating while wearing white. Archbishop Garcia indicated that conversation with the president was inconclusive but that “we are working on the topic.” He added that one cannot race to conclusions regarding dates or concrete actions, though he did emphasize “the topic is being dealt with seriously, that I can say.”
Archbishop Garcia later said that though there have been disagreements in the past, Wednesday’s meeting was significant for the assistance it gave to the Church’s efforts of mediation, and for the recognition it gave to the role of the Church as an interlocutor. The meeting, he added, helped set aside old grievances in order to work together in a new direction.
The conversations, the archbishop added, should not be used to interpret relationship between the state and the Church as being a “strategic alliance,” because this phrase has military or political connotations. The Church ought to act within society with the freedom of religion guaranteed by the Constitution but never under any type of alliance. The importance of the recent meeting stems from this, he added. In this way, it is possible overcome old conceptions and stereotypes in order to enter in that which is the nature of the Church and her mission in society.
The meeting with Raúl Castro, said Cardinal Ortega, opens a new era. Above all, it must be kept in mind that the meeting was not to dialogue about problems in the Church, but rather to dialogue about Cuba, about the present moment, and about the future. “And that is how it was for more than 4 hours,” he indicated. This important event ushers in the necessary phase of dialogue. Quoting Pope Paul VI, Archbishop Garcia said, “Dialogue is the new name of peace.”