Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino, Archbishop of Havana, Cuba, announced at the Knights of Columbus' annual States Dinner that thanks to the mediation of the Catholic Conference of Cuban Bishops, fifty-two prisoners of conscience will be released within three to four months.
Upon receiving the Gaudium et Spes award on the evening of August 3, Cardinal Ortega said that “regardless of the distance, and the differences in our social or political systems, you have been brothers to the Cuban Catholics and have shown us your solidarity.”
The Cuban cardinal especially mentioned the Knights of Columbus' support in the construction of the new San Carlos y San Ambrosio National Seminary in Havana. The seminary is scheduled to open in November and will be able to house 100 seminarians.
Cardinal Ortega also highlighted that lay people have played a significant role in Cuba, “especially in the last 40 years, not only by the work they have carried out in some ministries due to the shortage of priests, but also by the social role they have played within families, at work places, schools and society in general; sometimes they have had to face hardships given the constrains and limitations suffered by believers in past decades.”
“The laity's role in Cuba is very well-known by the Knights of Columbus, who were present in my country since the beginning of the Republic in 1902, carrying out a fruitful work that has left its imprint on us,” he added.
The cardinal also revealed that “nowadays the situation is more favorable for the action of charity services characteristic of the Knights of Columbus in the Cuban Church,” since “plenty of social works” have become real possibilities and have enabled the Church in Cuba to have a social presence.
The Archbishop of Havana also described a growing phenomenon: “the Mission Houses that gather communities of 60, 70 or even 100 people in family homes. Many times, these communities are looked after by catechist laymen who prepare the faithful to evolve from evangelized communities to Eucharistic communities. In my archdiocese, several of these communities have turned into parishes. Now we must build parish churches.”
“The Church,” Cardinal Ortega explained, “has always been duly interested—in a discreet, direct and non-violent way—in everything related to justice and the common good.”
“Lately,” he informed the Knights, “the Cuban government, responding to our request, has asked us to mediate between the political prisoners' relatives and the government authorities in order to know their proposals. In this way a process began, which has led to the recent announcement that fifty-two convicts, considered prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International, will be released in a period of three to four months.”
More than 20 of these prisoners have already traveled to Spain.
According to the Cuban cardinal, these discussions with the government “have been unprecedented, and they bring about a new situation of social appreciation for our Catholics. We hope that this process of dialogue, in which we are immerged (sic) now, ends successfully.”
The Knights of Columbus has previously conferred the Gaudium et Spes award on Catholic leaders such as Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone and the late Cardinal John O'Connor.