Exiled Cubans discuss role of faith in prison

.- Four former Cuban political prisoners recently shared how their faith helped them survive their time in prison.

Jose Miguel Martinez, Regis Iglesias, Leonel Grave and Jesus Mustafa recently spoke to the Catholic newspaper Alfa y Omega. 

“Only God can sustain you in the prisons of Cuba,” Jose Miguel Martinez explained.  While Martinez had participated in both the Legion of Mary and Caritas, it was after his involvement in the Varela Project that he was imprisoned.

The Varela Project works to achieve a peaceful transition to democracy in Cuba.

“Each day we agreed to pray, each one in his cell.  We read the Bible and we shared reflections,” he said. Although their activities were temporarily prohibited by the prison guards, Martinez continued, “the feeling of God I had inside made me ever stronger.”

The case of Jesus Mustafa is unique.  At the age of 66 he remembers the first years of the “Communist revolution.”  “Before taking over, Castro said that to betray the poor was to betray Christ.  But when he came to power he betrayed the poor and he betrayed Christ,” Mustafa said.

Sentenced to 25 years for his membership in the Christian Liberation Movement, Mustafa said the prison guards tried to break the will of political dissidents.  “If I did not have faith, they would have won.

“They make your life miserable,” he continued, adding that if the guards don't achieve their goals, they take their aggression out of the dissidents' families.

“My grandson was expelled from school and isolated.  They threw lead pellets at my wife and daughter while they slept.  They tried to tear down a statue of John Paul II that I had outside the door of my home,” Mustafa revealed.

At 34, Leonel Grave is the youngest of the four.  He asked to be baptized in the faith after John Paul II’s visit to Cuba in 1998.  In the short time he has spent in exile from Cuba, Grave noted with sadness that the churches in Spain are emptier than those in Cuba.

“In prison I prayed more because when you are isolated you sense God is with you,” he said.  “In Spain I have seen more disrespect for the Church and for God, and less people at church than in Cuba.  The people are asleep and they need to awaken to God,” he added.

For his part, Regis Iglesias underscored the importance of the Varela Project as “the boldest, most concrete and structured attempt to give back to the nation the freedom and dignity that was taken away.  We do not want a bloodbath but rather to give voice to the people of Cuba,” he said.


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