Desde Dentro de Cuba.

Distribuido por Cuba Free Press, Inc. -

Nov. 15, 1999.

FRESH FRICTION BETWEEN CHURCH AND STATE? By Orestes Martin Perez, Cuba Free Press.

HAVANA - It is quite possible the Cuban Catholic Church is entering a new period of increasing 'discrepancy' with the state. The comments by some Cuban officials about supposed manipulations from overseas and the subsequent change in tone of the Catholic officials' answers would indicate as much.

The fact is that the contradictions between the gospel message, which places the people in a privileged role assigned to them by God, is in essence incompatible with the enslaving spirit institutionalized by the Cuban government. The feverish hope which has filled our churches throughout this decade is still present in our memories. Each celebration of our patroness' day became a reaffirmation of our patriotism as well as a complete identification with our Christian roots. Many intellectuals, professionals as well as lay people experienced mass and the Holy Eucharist for the first time.

The crowning moment took place when the bishops came out with their well-remembered declaration: "Love hopes for all." The state's response was not long in coming. There were violent acts against temples and distinguished figures who had simply made use of their legitimate right to express themselves about the problems tormenting the fatherland.

Several intellectuals from the "nomenklatura" had to publicly rip their Christian robes as they made indignant accusations against the church for publication in the government press.

The appointment of Jaime Ortega as cardinal came at a very troubled time, at a turning point for the church and state relations. One gets the impression the Church's strategy is to minimize tensions with the state while trying to take advantage of the "peace" to strengthen itself as an institution. That approach may be advantageous. In fact some advances have resulted but at the same time such an approach raises questions and may leave a perception of set-backs. Although the church is better integrated into the society, the assistance offered at its centers has declined, the original fervor lessened.

The rousing message of Christ is still present in the words of the priests but it does not seem to carry the same valor, the sense of encouragement or the fighting spirit of years past. Paradoxically this happens as the country's situation worsens and the people become more vocal. There are more denunciations of the problems we face, of the abuse we are subjected to; and the tone of those condemnations gets louder.

It is difficult to understand, in that context, how activities of the church's Commission for Peace and Justice are left unfinished - possibly out of a desire not to dwell in controversy, a feeble defense.

On the other side of the scale and very much in its favor, the Cuban church made possible the pope's visit to our island nation. Even if the government was also looking for it to happen, it had to loosen the steel ring it kept on the church. From that event, the church's institutions rose in prestige and strength, their role in the search for solutions for our peoples became clearer. But it also placed enormous responsibilities on the church's shoulders.

Those opposing the papal visit should criticize, not the visit itself, but the manipulations and false interpretations of the pope's message. Everything was initially focused on the reciprocal opening between Cuba and the world, as heard in the papal message.

This myopic interpretation and the interests of foreign businessmen resulted in political dividends for the state but hardly any benefits for the people. They are still waiting for the recognition of the latent message: Cuba should open itself for the Cubans! Although a number of interpretations are possible, our common interests, our nationality make that interpretation the best, the most urgent, the most desirable.

The constructive actions which would follow such an interpretation would have as its ultimate beneficiaries the long-suffering people of Cuba. That is the firm truth, the way it should be. And we must have faith it will be. There are already voices under the flags of such an interpretation, the call to action by Peter's successor. Such figures as Bishop Pedro Maurice of Santiago de Cuba, lay people like Paya Sardinas or Dagoberto Valdes provide such voices. Publications like the journal Vitral carry editorials with expectations such as we have given.

We know and approve of the church's efforts not to live in an atmosphere of animosity towards the State. But there are irreconcilable points of view in what each one considers should be done with our society. It is because of those complex realities and the political obstinacy of those denying the church any free space that the doctrinal interests and the evangelization work is affected negatively.

It is disingenuous to consider evolution to a common ground feasible. But should that in fact happen, may God grant it is not at the cost of the sacrifices we have already endured.

Orestes Martin Perez, Cuba Free Press.

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