In an extensive interview with the magazine “Espacio Laical,” published by the Archdiocese of Havana, Cardinal Jaime Lucas Ortega said the Church in Cuba is “alive and united with her people.”
Speaking with reporter Lenier Gonzalez Mederos on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of John Paul II’s visit to Cuba, the cardinal noted that during the first few years after the Castro revolution, the Church experienced a drop in the number of priests and personnel and a lack of resources to carry out her mission. The focus was mainly on internal Church affairs, the sacraments and the spiritual, moral and material support of the Catholic communities, he explained.
However, “in 1981 the Church in Cuba began to develop what was called the Cuban Ecclesial Reflection program, which was carried out over five years and ended with the National Cuban Ecclesial Encounter in 1986.” That event “opened doors” and “breathed a new spirit into the communities,” the cardinal said. “Our faithful needed to understand this and come out from the fold and the Church needed to recognize that the Church has a mission that is not limited to the confines of the sacristy.”
“The Catholic faithful,” he added, “has progressively understood that the Church has an irreplaceable mission to carry out here, and the State has also progressively accepted and understood the mission of the Church, which is not limited just to worship.”
Pope John Paul’s visit to Cuba was a consequence of the “enthusiastic and coherent attitude of all the bishops of Cuba. At that time we acted as one, with great determination and enthusiasm to make the Pope’s visit a reality,” Cardinal Ortega said.
The visit required intense coordination with local officials, he went on, and thus it became clear that it was possible to participate in society and live together “without giving rise to conflict.”
“The whole time the Pope was in Cuba, the gestures of the people were very significant. The reception by the people surpassed our expectations,” the cardinal said.
“One day,” he recounted, “the Pope told me as we were coming back: ‘These people are intelligent. They applaud the concepts and not just the way a speech sounds’.”
Evaluating the current situation in Cuba, Cardinal Ortega pointed out that Cuban culture is essentially Christian but that during the last 50 years there has been an attempt to erase Christianity in the country—“through a very strong Church-State separation.” Today the new generations of Catholics are called to insert themselves into society, he said, and “this is something the Church should foster.”
Cardinal Ortega acknowledged that the concept of “national reconciliation” is “a term that many times cannot be used in Cuba,” because it is often a politically charged idea that “refers to the possibility of reconciling ideologies.”
However, “people can be reconciled. I believe that we can reach that kind of fraternity through personal dialogue. We’re not talking about dialogue between Church and State leaders, but rather dialogue between the diverse political sectors,” the cardinal stated.
As reconciliation between people spreads, he emphasized, “other situations, including political ones, will improve.”
Finally, Cardinal Ortega stressed that with the historic papal visit, “The Church made our society known to the entire world: The Catholic Church was there, she was alive and she was united with her people,” he said.