Desde Dentro de Cuba.

Distribuido por Cuba Free Press, Inc. -

HAVANA, July 29, 1998, Cuba Free Press.

PEOPLE STILL SAY: "AND YOUR NAME WILL BE OUR SHIELD." By Efrén Martínez Pulgarn, Cuba Free Press.

HAVANA - Another act of censorship, another limit on freedom, another arbitrary detention has taken place in this city. The place: a church. The arrested: a Virgin. The crime: "counter-revolutionary activity."

On July 16, the office for religious affairs of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba refused a permit for a procession to take place in the neighborhood of Cayo Hueso, in central Havana, for a celebration on behalf of the Virgin of Our Lady of Carmen.

The priests for the order of the Shoeless Carmelitas, who take care of the parish of Carmen, at Infanta and Neptuno Streets, had asked for the permit since June. They were to be the organizers of the procession.

The above mentioned office of the ruling party "recommended" the action of "not allowing the procession". This incident, though recent, is not new in our motherland. But celebrations to the Virgin Mary - in her several different investitures - have strong roots in the popular psyche while the refusals of permits go back only 37 years.

The year 1961 marked a new era in the worsening of tensions between the church and the state. A 1961 incident around some religious festivity led to a direct confrontation. Eduardo Boza Masvidal, then auxiliary Bishop of Havana and holding the helm of the parish known as Nuestra Senora de la Caridad de Cobre (Our Lady of Charity of Copper, the Patron Saint of the island and whose celebration is on September 8), organized a procession to be held on September 10 that year. The procession was to march to the Cathedral.

However, it ended before it began with confrontations across from the temple. The church people were dispersed by National Revolutionary Militia members who instigated an angry atmosphere by hurling insults and accusing the faithful of being counter-revolutionaries.

The end result was several wounded and one death. In spite of the fact that it was never proven, the authorities asserted that shots had been fired from the church steeple, leading to the young man's death. From then on, the Cuban Church was accused of supporting the counter-revolution and the government started the official isolation of the church, the faithful and those devotees of the Virgin Mary.

Within days after the incident, 132 priests were expelled from the country, including Boza Masvidal. And the processions and the open air masses were banned although there was never an official document banning them.

Frictions, tensions, persecutions, jailings, and the infamous camps of the Military Units to Aid Production (UMAP), which residents secretly called "concentration camps," would come later. But the people's devotion to the Virgin Mary continued.

The government and the people - will never forget that in 1960, the Catholic Bishops had issued a statement saying, "the absolute majority of the Cuban people, which is Catholic" stands "against the communist materialism and atheism. (This is) a people which lies and coercion will not suffice to allow the leadership of a Communist regime. That is something which the Virgin of Charity will not ever allow to happen."

That posed a difficult job indeed for the Virgin. So, people ask: "Are we holding here the key to the persecutions? Is it that the Cuban government took to heart the new mission for Cachita, as Cubans fondly call their Patron Saint? Only God knows. At any rate, Cuba has remained close to the Virgin. (Even as some today blame her for not helping us more in 1960.)

The Virgin of Charity of Copper has always been a rallying point for the Cuban motherland. Even before the flag, the shield and the national anthem, the church rallied around her many Cubans. Within the national culture, forged over half a millenium, rest in the Virgin Mary and the Virgin of Copper as a permanent symbol. This devotion was very much linked to Cuba's libertarian struggles; that is why, at the end of the Cuban War of Independence, the veterans of the Liberation Army asked Pope Benedict XV, in 1915, to declare the Virgin of Copper as Cuba's Patron Saint.

So it was that upon the triumph of the 1959 revolution, many rebels came down from the Sierra Maestra wearing the medals with the Virgin's image inscribed on them.

In 1998, during the preparation for the Pope's visit, the image of the Patron Saint of Copper appeared again in the open air, along streets and plazas. This led to an unexpected social phenomenon: A real shaking within the national consciousness of the population which the Marxist scientific atheism of these 39 years had not been able to erase. It was surely something not expected.

Now many people are sayhing, "Virgin of Carmen, Virgin of Mercy, Virgin of Regla, Virgin of Miracles, Immaculate Virgin, Virgin of Charity, all in one, the Mary of all, so ingrained in us all that they will never be able to banish her."

Strangely, the government has not even been able to erase the religious name of the site of the Cuban political police. It is called "Villa Marista" (the Home of Mary), and still bears the name engraved in what was an old convent-school that used to belong to the Marist (from Mary) Order in Havana. Some say, "Isn't it a paradox that the general quarters of the feared State Security continues to remain marist?"

Others comment, "It wouldn't surprise me if one of these days the image of any one of these Marias will be detained and taken to this site and !charged with being "a counter-revolutionary, highly dangerous."

The writer, reflecting on these events, asks herself what is happening in Cuba with religious freedom after the visit of Saint Peter's successor. Events like That of July 16 leave a lot to be desired as to the government's intentions concerning the Catholic Church and its claims.

As one old Catholic man told Cuba Free Press: "We took two steps forward and three backwards...." Yet the climate of openness which was seen during the Pope's visit is not a ghost. Regardless, the fruits are in the hearts of the Cuban people which, in spite of the prohibitions, censorship, and persecutions, remembers the lines of the Virgin of Charity's anthem which say: "And your name will be our shield. Our protection will be your grace."

By Efrén Martínez Pulgarón, Cuba Free Press.

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