Father Alberto Reyes, a priest of the Archdiocese of Camagüey, Cuba, recently shared a reflection on Facebook about human dignity as experienced in his homeland.

He noted that “dignity” is one of the most beloved words in the public discourse of this nation. “‘We are a dignified people,’ we repeat ad nauseam, although then when you ask: ‘What does dignity mean?’ people have no idea,” he wrote.

The Cuban priest explained that dignity is a gift given by God and not something that is received from a government authority, and therefore he called on his compatriots to “grow in the awareness of one’s own dignity” and to defend it.

In the Nov. 30 post, Reyes pointed out that although “dignity is never lost,” what “can be lost, or manipulated, is the awareness of dignity, the awareness of one’s own value.”

The priest explained that sometimes “a person’s dignity is tied to what he possesses, to his social status,” which is a view that is “false and manipulative, because our value lies in our being as persons.”

Reyes pointed out that the same thing happens when dignity is linked “to political discourse, which conveys the message that the person has worth if he joins a political or ideological program, if he defends a certain line of thought, if he participates socially in support of a partisan project.”

The priest said that this message conveyed by the government makes it clear that the person who doesn’t support its political discourse becomes a “second-class citizen” and falls in the category of “the opposition” if he expresses “his disagreement with the current political program,” risking “being denied the right to express himself” freely or to remain in his own country.

Reyes explained that this causes many to be in a state of panic over “‘not losing value’ before the evaluating and inquisitorial gaze of (those in) power” and so they seek to make it clear that “they are behaving well” by participating in all initiatives, demonstrations, and government meetings, including in “all elections, even if they’re a farce.”

The priest wrote that the terror of these people reaches such a point “that even at times when their opinion is asked through a personal and secret vote, they don’t dare to give expression what they truly think, because … ‘you never know.’”

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“And when their children are growing up and start saying that they don’t want to live as slaves, they do the impossible to get them to leave the country, preferring distance and separation to facing a government that has set itself up as the source of value for individuals,” he pointed out.

The Cuban priest clarified that it’s possible to live in this way, without having problems with the system, “but at the price of not existing, of giving up your freedom of expression,” ceding “your value to a political system to which that person doesn’t matter, because he’s seen simply as a necessary piece to maintain a power structure.”

“Although dignity is something with which one is born, it’s necessary to grow in the awareness of one’s own dignity, it’s necessary to learn not only to recognize one’s own value but also to defend it, to protect it, and to accept the price of choosing to exist,” Reyes concluded.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.