In My Opinion
Church's good works, Cuban cardinal's bad calls
By Myriam Marquez
It will take "patience and decisiveness." So says the pope about
changing Cuba's 53-year-old Marxist dictatorship.
No problem, responds Cuba's Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez from
Havana. Cuba, he maintains, "is a democratic social project . . . which
is constantly perfecting itself."
What bunk. In this perfect revolutionary storm, the democratic values of
free speech and association are quashed daily. Cuba's communist
government has been rounding up opposition leaders, detaining and
harassing them, telling them to stay home — or else — when the pope
arrives Monday for a three-day visit to Santiago and Havana. That's what
the Castro brothers deem to be their "democratic social project."
You would think after a half century of "perfecting," one would find
paradise not the sad, decrepit reality of an island where people's hopes
have been strangled in the quest for Marxist perfection.
Dubbed as a "Cuban spring of hope and reconciliation" by Catholic
leaders like Archbishop Thomas Wenski in Miami, this visit by Pope
Benedict XVI comes 14 years after Pope John Paul II called for Cuba to
open up to the world and the world to open up to Cuba. Truth is, there
has been a slow religious revival in a country for more than three
decades was officially atheist.
I saw it in 2002 when I covered events in Cuba for almost a month, a
year before the Black Spring, when 75 dissidents were imprisoned for
speaking truth to power. One little church in Santiago, headed by Father
José Conrado Rodríguez, was so packed that spring of 2002 that an
overflow crowd of more than 100 (young and old, black and white) sat on
folding chairs outside the church under an aluminum roof (built with
donations from exiles), listening to his every word over a crackling
I saw it in the ajiaco, stew cooked three times a week by church
volunteers to deliver to the elderly, thanks to exiles' donations.
I saw it in the smiling faces of neighborhood children with Down's
syndrome — helped by a church volunteer, a teacher who no longer taught
in government schools because she could not reconcile her Christian
faith with Marxist dogma.
I saw it in José Daniel Ferrer Garcia, a young father whose
black-and-blue welts on his back, arms and face from getting thrown off
a bus and beaten by a pro-regime mob as he bravely collected signatures
for the Varela Project on his way to Santiago, were still fresh when I
Today Ferrer is among the few Black Spring prisoners who remains in
Cuba. Most were swept from prison straight to a plane headed to Spain in
a deal Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino worked out with Raúl Castro.
Ferrer has already been detained a number of times since set "free."
Another regime exercise in "perfecting."
Ten years of patience since that trip. A decade of decisiveness by
opposition leaders like Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet, who also refused to
leave his country and suffered longer in prison, as did Ferrer, because
Ortega has gained space for the church, but at what cost to our
I have no illusions, but deep in the heart there is anticipation of the
possible. If only this pope would meet with brave dissidents like the
Ladies in White. The women who have marched peacefully from the Santa
Rita Church in Havana every Sunday for almost a decade to protest the
imprisonment of husbands, fathers, brothers.
John Paul, who lived under communism in Poland when he was priest,
brought hope 14 years ago even if he could not deliver freedom to
Cubans. Almost a generation later, the space the church has managed to
eke out remains subject to the regime's "perfecting."
Thus, Ortega couches what he says in regime-speak, going so far as to
"invite" the government to kick out 13 dissidents who gathered
peacefully last week at a Havana church in hopes of persuading the pope
to meet with them.
Do church leaders not see the symbolism of the 13? The grace of Christ
and his 12 apostles at that church shattered by a Cuban cardinal who
called seeking such sanctuary "illegitimate and irresponsible."
I recognize it's a delicate balance. It's easy to be an armchair critic
from the comfort of my Miami home. I know the church is doing tremendous
works of mercy, ministering to the sick, the poor, the elderly, the
imprisoned, and that it wants peace in any transition not a blood bath.
On the plane Friday to his first stop in Mexico before heading to Cuba,
the pope told journalists, "Today it is evident that Marxist ideology as
it was conceived no longer responds to reality. So you have to find new
models, with patience, and in a constructive way." He added the process
"requires patience and also decisiveness."
After 53 years of patience and "perfecting," let this trip be about