Cardinal Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino, Archbishop of San Cristóbal de La Habana (Cuba), was born in Jagüey Grande in the diocese and province of Matanzas, Cuba, on October 18, 1936. His father was first a worker in the sugar factory close to the village where he was born, and subsequently a shop-keeper.
When he was five years old, his family moved to the city of Matanzas. There he completed his compulsory education at the prestigious school Arturo Echemendía. He completed his higher education at the Advanced Institute for Secondary Studies of Matanzas, a state-run student centre.
He earned a diploma in arts and sciences in 1955 and after one year at the university, entered the diocesan seminary of San Alberto Magno, directed by the Fathers of the Foreign Mission of Quebec.
After four years studying humanities and philosophy, the Bishop sent him to study theology at the seminary of the Foreign Mission in Quebec, Canada.
He then returned to Cuba and was ordained priest on August 2, 1964, in the Cathedral of Matanzas. His ministry as Coadjutor Vicar of Cárdenas was interrupted in 1966 when he was detained in work camps known by the initials UMAP. In 1967, at the end of his imprisonment, he was appointed parish priest of Jagüey Grande, his native town.
Like all parish priests in Cuba during this period when priests were few and far between, he was in charge of several parishes and churches. In 1969 he was appointed parish priest of the Cathedral of Matanzas. Responsible for the parish of Pueblo Nuevo in the city and another two churches outside it, at the same time he was also President of the Diocesan Commission for Catechesis and maintained an active apostolate with the youth of the Diocese. In those years, very difficult for the Church's pastoral activities, he founded a youth movement, which included among the various forms of the apostolate summer camps for young people and evangelization by the means of theatricals, performed by the young people themselves.
For several years, in addition to his pastoral activities in the city of Matanzas, he taught at the Sts. Charles and Ambrose interdiocesan seminary in Havana, which he visited once a week to give courses in moral theology.
On December 4, 1978, John Paul II named him Bishop of Pinar del Rio. He was consecrated on January 14, 1979 in the Cathedral of Matanzas, and on January 21, he took possession of his diocese. Three years of pastoral work in a deeply religious Catholic Diocese with a very committed and participative laity left an indelible mark on the soul of the Bishop who was promoted to the Archdiocese of Havana as Archbishop on November 20, 1981. On December 27 he took possession of this new See.
He was in charge of pastoral activities for 13 years in this Archdiocese. He created new parishes, set up the Diocesan Council for Pastoral Initiatives, rebuilt more than 40 churches and parish houses, founded a priests' residence for the priests of the Diocese and of the whole of Cuba for meetings, retreats or simply for holidays, created a lay centre for meetings with a library, chapel and guest rooms, built two centres for meetings and conferences especially for youth. These are some of the principle initiatives undertaken by the Archbishop who always showed special interest in the laity and above all, in young people. In 1991 he set up Caritas in Havana, thus founding Caritas Cuba.
The Archbishop's chief concern was for vocations to the priesthood. In the course of his episcopal mission, Archbishop Ortega ordained 22 Cuban priests; a modest but significant number in a country where the Church's pastoral action has always been considerably curtailed.
Thanks to his homilies, the archdiocesan monthly bulletin Aqui la Iglesia and other speeches and messages, he made himself known to the people in his archdiocese who listened to his opinions and followed his guidance despite the fact that the Church in Cuba has no access to the media.
In 1988 until November 1998, he was President of the Cuban Conference of Catholic Bishops. In this capacity, he took part in the fourth General Conference of the Latin-American Bishops in Santo Domingo. From 1995 to 1999, he was the Second Vice President of the Latin American Episcopal Council (CELAM). From December 2001 until February 2006, he served his fourth time as President of the Cuban Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Has received degrees Honoris Causa from the Barry and St. Thomas Universities (Florida), University of San Francisco (California), Providence College (Rhode Island) and Boston College (Massachusetts). January 2001, Honoris Causa doctorate, St. John’s University (New York).
Created and proclaimed Cardinal by John Paul II in the consistory of November 26, 1994, of the Title of Sts. Aquila e Priscilla.
- Clergy (congregation)
- Health Care Workers (council)
- Latin America (commission)