Desde Dentro de Cuba.

Distribuido por Cuba Free Press, Inc. -

03 de Enero del 2000


Pinar del Rio.-The final months of 1999 found a worsening of the wavering relations between the Cuban government and the Roman Catholic church. This last set of strains began after Fidel Castro declared at a Nov. 1 television appearance that Monsignor Pedro Meurice, archbishop at Santiago, was being "manipulated" by external influences. On Nov. 2 Cardinal Jaime Ortega and Aramillo published the comment that "the words, homilies and public statements made by the Archbishop of Santiago of Cuba are not the fruit of any manipulation...rather the dictates of a pastor's conscience, sensitive to his personal duties in expressing his thoughts on themes which preoccupy the church and the Cuban people." Some saw the comment as an indication of irritation with Castro's statement.

The cardinal also mentioned past charges of "manipulation," as in connection with the "Christians for Socialism" factions and later when representatives of the "Liberation Theology" movement attempted to align the Cuban church with their views, thus creating divisions within the bosom of the Latin-American church. Those references were directed at Cuban authorities' past efforts to manipulate the church.

Observers often mention how the government authorities endorsed and celebrated those splintering attempts.

The attention on Monsignor Meurice surprised many who saw him as frequently pushing the limits imposed on the church authority. The "circling of the wagons" around his position demonstrated to all that the church would not abandon any one of its members to state aggression. A month after that incident, at the reception for the new Cuban ambassador to the Holy See, Pope John Paul II mentioned "the need for Cuba to open its society more..."

A day earlier in Havana, Chancellor Jean Louis Tauran had presented a similar platform as part of his conference on "Relations between Church and State in a Modern Society." The ideas there on democracy, the state and its relations with the church, expressed as parts of the Catholic church's social doctrine, were harshly criticized by Cuban government officials. Chancellor Tauran ended his conference by lamenting the fact that a plaque dedicated by the pope during his visit to the University of Havana had not yet been placed in the "Aula Magna" (Magisterial Classroom) as originally intended.

So far there is no answer from the Cuban government to the Vatican's latest declaration but the irritation and displeasure caused by them were obvious and some say that subsequent government actions stemmed from that.

Observers said one probable result was the unexpected "banning" announced by the Office of Religious Affairs of the Communist Party's Central Committee of a Catholic youth pilgrimage to the Shrine of El Cobre. It was scheduled to take place on Dec. 3 and 4 as part of the millenium celebrations for a new Christian era. Party officials also banned Dec. 26 pilgrimages from the dioceses of Santiago and Pinar del Rio scheduled with others from the other Cuban provinces.

For those religious processions held Dec. 26 there was a large contingent of political police, particularly where those activities had been "banned," trying to keep people from joining in.

Critics said this behavior by the political authorities was a violation of Cuba's constitution which says "the state recognizes, respects and guarantees freedom of religion." The critics noted how far removed the police actions were from the church's goal of "allowing the faithful freedom of thought, of expression...inclusive (of) freedom to dissent."

Even as the church indicated it spared no effort to avoid friction with the state, possibly hoping it could thus more effectively deliver on its social and religious missions, some observers said it was evident that a continuation of party and government interference and restrictions will result in further hardening of the Vatican's rhetoric as well as the inability of the Cuban Catholic church to further 'accomodate.'Many observers complained that Church leaders' past efforts at accomodation were already excessive.

Orestes Martin Perez, Cuba Free Press.

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