The national coordinator of the Varela Project and president of the Christian Liberation Movement, Oswaldo Payá, published a message to his fellow countrymen asking them to return to the commemoration of Christmas as a celebration of faith in Jesus.
Payá recalled that the Christmas holiday was restored in the country five years ago, but he lamented that the Christian spirit of the holiday is still absent from many Cuban homes.
According to the well-known dissident, after years of repression Cubans are still fearful of openly expressing Christmas wishes to one another, but fear is not “the only factor in this omission.”
“The true meaning of Christmas can only be understood when it is celebrated and lived from the fullness of the faith,” Payá said, pointing to the large numbers of faithful that attended Christmas Eve Mass.
He said that many Cubans feel Jesus, “born in poverty in Bethlehem,” is saying something to them.
“Most certainly the churches were crowded with people looking for something different than the diversion of rum and beer. People were waiting to hear words of hope and love. The great dilemma is whether or not they encountered that word which would make them change the direction of their lives,” Payá said.
In this sense, he said that “if people are afraid, it is because they have not encountered Jesus, and it would be difficult for them to wish someone a Merry Christmas. If they claim to be celebrating Christmas as Christians and they just focus on the special meal, the tree, or the disappointment of not having these things, then the true meaning of the celebration will be equally missing and Jesus will still be absent from the lives of these people.”
He echoed the words of Cardinal Jaime Ortega, Archbishop of Havana, who told the faithful that “whoever tragically says that on this occasion he or she cannot express joy or happiness does not know the fullness of the Christian message, much less what Jesus comes to bring us.”
Payá said “Christmas will always exist” and “it doesn’t need to be authorized by official decree, because even though laws are passed which allow for its celebration, it is a feast that comes from the heart and not from legislation.”
“If one’s heart is empty, full of despair, estranged from God and full of banality, then there cannot be a true celebration of Christmas. It’s not fear that prevents one from expressing Christmas greetings, but rather not knowing the God who is love, forgiveness and freedom. He that knows Jesus and is committed to following Him will not easily be kept from living Christmas and wishing a Merry Christmas to all,” he concluded.