The Church's Presence Is Felt in Cuba
We met briefly with Cuban government officials as well as the head of the American Interests Section in Havana. The main purpose of the visit, however, was to meet with church officials to express to them our solidarity and to offer them our support as they continue to seek to expand the space in which the church operates in a society whose government still adheres to communist ideology and practice.
At a press conference held in Havana at the retreat house where we stayed, reporters asked a variety of questions. What was our position on the embargo? No change: Both the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) as well as the Cuban bishops have been opposed to the economic embargo for decades. It has failed to change policy but has inflicted needless suffering on the Cuban population.
What is the relationship between church and state in Cuba? We answered basically what we had heard from our counterparts in the Cuban hierarchy: It's not what it should be, but it's better than it has been.
Did the help sent through the church after last year's hurricanes reach its intended destination? The answer to that question was Yes -- and part of our visit was actually to see where and how the help sent from the United States made a difference last year. Caritas Cuba (the Cuban equivalent of Catholic Charities) coordinated and supervised the distribution of tons of relief supplies sent from Miami in an effort mounted on this side by Catholic Relief Services and the Archdiocese of Miami's Catholic Charities.
One reporter asked: What does Cuba need now? The answer I gave I have yet to see in print but it was brief. I answered with one word: "Hope."
Today, Cuba is marked by growing uncertainty and an increasing sense of hopelessness. For many, especially the youth, hope is defined as "leaving."
In Spe Salvi, Pope Benedict wrote: "A world without God is a world without hope." When a society closes the door to the Infinite, to transcendence -- whether by adherence to ideological materialism (as in the case of Marxist-Leninism) or by adherence to practical materialism (as is increasingly the case in our Western democracies) hope is exiled. While Cuba is no longer an officially "atheistic" state, 50 years of communism during which religious practice was actively discouraged has had its effect on Cuban society.
Through it all, the church -- though weakened and reduced in numbers -- survived. Today the church in Cuba, beyond just surviving, is striving to be a witness to hope. And, in spite of difficulties and lack of resources, it is gaining new members and more space in which to carry out its mission.
Pope John Paul II's visit in 1998 certainly had a hugely positive effect. And, in hundreds of parishes throughout the island, in countless projects of social assistance offered by Caritas, Catholics in Cuba are witness to that hope that does not disappoint, the hope with a human face: Jesus Christ.
One sign of that hope is the construction of a new seminary just outside of Havana financed largely through the generosity of the Knights of Columbus. This seminary is the first significant construction project undertaken by the Catholic Church in 50 years. It will be completed in late summer of 2010, a fitting way to close the Year for Priests on that island nation. How often in the history of the world has the dragon of the Apocalypse (Revelation 12: 1-18) in its various incarnations attempted to swallow up the Bride of Christ, the church? Yet is it the dragon that is ultimately vanquished -- for love always proves more powerful than hatred?
As Pope Benedict XVI said on Aug. 15, 2007: "In all ages, the church, the People of God, also lives by the light of God and, as the Gospel says, is nourished by God. Thus in all the trials in the various situations of the church through the ages in different parts of the world, she wins through suffering. And she is the presence, the guarantee of God's love against all the ideologies of hatred and selfishness."
Source: Miami Herald