CUBA, 465 priests, consecrated persons and laity •
“So that you can know more about what we are going through in Cuba,” wrote Fr. Jose Gabriel Bastian, from the first course of the Schoenstatt Priests Federation in Cuba. “Two of the signatories are from my Federation course. If you like, you can share this so that the world can know what my people are going through.” There were 465 people who signed an important document, published below in support of the 465 people who bravely spoke out on 24 January 2021, on the feast of St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint of journalists, and the “day on which Pope John Paul II crowned Our Lady of Charity as our patroness.” —
How did this come about? “A group of priests were reflecting,” commented Fr. Rolando. “We are very involved in the suffering of our people,” and we feel that there is a great deal of love, courage, and hope in these few words. That is why we published it, with and for them, “in honor of our Mother and Patroness, Queen of Cuba, Mother of Charity.”
As believers in God, priests, consecrated persons, laity, as men and women of good will, as Cubans who love our country and who dream of a bright future for her, we send this message, born of love.
Convinced that, as Father Félix Varela taught us, “there is no Homeland without virtue, nor virtue with impiety,” and that good and peace are only possible with the combination of justice, mercy and truth;
Wishing, like José Martí, for a Republic where the full dignity of every man and woman is worshiped, regardless of their thoughts, their positions, and even their personal sins;
Being consistent with our conscience, which does not allow us to remain silent when faced with the construction of our nation’s present and future; because we don’t want to be “people who wash their hands like the Roman governor and let the water of history run without committing themselves;”
In communion with the magisterium of the Catholic Bishops of Cuba who, in number 13 of their recent Christmas message, invite us “not to wait for them to give us from above what we must and can build ourselves from below;”
Inspired by the enlightening message of Saint John Paul II, who, twenty-three years ago, urged us to “be protagonists in our own personal and national history;”
We want to give voice to our thoughts and feelings—joys and sorrows, frustrations and dreams— knowing that they are not just ours but also of a large part of our Cuban people on each of the shores where the heart of Cuba beats, because we are a single nation, on the island and in the diaspora. “The Cuban suffers, lives and waits here and also suffers, lives and waits out there.”
2. “I have heard the cry of my people.”
The Word of God is light for what our country is living today.
In the Book of Exodus, the Bible tells us the story of Moses, the man to whom God manifests himself with the intention of freeing his people from slavery in Egypt, and to whom he says: “I have seen the affliction of my people (…) I have heard their cry because of their taskmasters; I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them (…) Come, I will send you.”
God sees, hears and feels with the heart of a Father what his people lives through, and their sadness, anguish and cries do not go unnoticed. But God does not stop with sterile observation; instead, he expresses his compassion as a commitment.
Yet liberation is not the work of God alone, or of Moses; it is also the work of a people who unite around faith and the desire for freedom. The people have to co-involve themselves, set out on the path, and learn to live in freedom through an immense desert that will demand numerous renunciations, the temptation to prefer certain comforts to freedom, to think that their efforts have been useless, and that they will never reach the future they so yearn for.
We are convinced that this text speaks to the heart of our present reality. God knows everything, nothing escapes from his hand. The present and future of Cuba are also in his hands. But God works with us, and asks us, like he asked Moses, to enact our share of responsibility and freedom. As Saint Augustine used to say, “The God who created you without you, will not save you without you.”
3. “I Have Seen…, I Have Heard…, I Know…”
Dreaming of Cuba and continuing to build our society is possible only if we start with its reality. We contemplate her with immense love, as a son does his mother, and also with a critical eye, as an adult son who has refused to remain immature. We put our synthetic vision here, since social phenomena are always complex.
Cuban society is diverse and heterogeneous.
The aspired-for artificial social uniformity no longer exists. Various social and economic strata coexist in Cuba. The presence of social classes and the gradual deepening of their differences is a palpable reality, especially painful when the poorest suffer the onslaught of economic measures that leave them helpless.
Cuba is also diverse from a political and ideological point of view. There is a sector tied to the official ideology that sustains the State, and there are also numerous sectors in civil society with other ideological orientations that, although not officially recognized, are present, some of them organized, and have a real impact on society.
Access to the internet and social networks, although limited and monitored, has broken the state barrier that contained and even impeded the flow of information and the ability of the common citizen to generate it. It is precisely this growing phenomenon of social communication that shows that there is a difference between public opinion and officially published opinion. There is a reality that is not published, which is denied in the name of ideology.
We are living through the collapse of an economic, political, and social model.
Although foreseeable because based in a philosophy that ignores the truth about what brings full meaning to human beings, the economic, political, and social system that has defined the destiny of Cuba since 1959 has been incapable of evolving. There have been many proposals to revive it, a sort of endless chain of unfulfilled promises that “this is it.” To this end, the Cuban bishops already warned in the pastoral letter, “Love Hopes All Things,” from 1993, “More than interim emergency means, it is necessary to have an economic project with defined edges, able to inspire and mobilize the energies of the whole people.”
The continuous, unfulfilled promise has led to exhaustion, as well as a skepticism that falls like a dense cloud over ordinary Cubans. They often feel that they are sinking in despondency because they live in a country whose happy future gets farther and farther away, like the horizon, with each step.
Right now, we are living with extreme measures. The stores in convertible currency (MLC) and the so-called economic laws make everyday life for the people even more bitter. Their work does not give them access to buy what they need with dignity. They live under the constant threat of shortages, of prices that are practically out of reach, and of having to pay in a foreign currency that with their own efforts they cannot earn. This situation slashes the value of labor and with it, human dignity itself. Depending on what others give for the fruits of your labor inevitably places us in a position of mendacity.
You cannot separate the economic from the political. As “Love Hopes All Things” already warned in section 46, Cuba needs political changes. Along with this intuition by the Cuban bishops, today there are many committing themselves to peaceful change and, unfortunately, receive repression in response. To insist on overcoming scarcity and bring Cuba to a decent future, the country will have to recognize reality and listen to those who are offering alternatives in good faith. Politics needs to listen to reality and work from there, because otherwise, it becomes ideology. To sacrifice reality on the altar of ideology is an absurdity with terrible consequences.
A generalized corruption.
The double standard and lies have become ever more regular elements of our daily lives. A lack of free thought and censorship have encouraged an incoherence between what is thought, said, and done. On the other hand, the near impossibility of living without engaging in something illegal makes the “black market” an indispensable ally for survival and an environment dominated by theft, bribery, and even blackmail. The “every man for himself” atmosphere, where anything goes, shows a corruption that permeates almost all social strata.
Added to this is the sense that we are constantly being spied on, that we could “fall into disgrace.” That sense, confirmed by the denunciations with which, whether as victims or witness, we are all familiar, plants seeds of doubt, kills trust, and blocks the unity that as a people we sorely need. Sometimes even without any guilt at all, a person can feel afraid due to the “excessive control of the organs of State Security that enters even into people’s strictly personal lives. This is how you can explain that fear that is felt even though we do not know what it is of, as if induced under the veil of intangibility.”
That same official voice of the State has recognized the need to recover values, but it is not enough to say it, or to threaten severe punishments. What is needed is to remedy the cause, the very origins of the corruption. This “remedying the corruption” necessarily involves protecting the family and renewing the educational system.
The crisis of the family: a wound to the heart of Cuba.
The environment that we inhabit directly impacts the Cuban family. Many homes are destabilized by the separation that emigration and missions cause. Often, the only means of bettering one’s quality of life requires separating family members.
Economic frustration and the exhausting daily struggle to survive cause the loss of a moral horizon. The Cuban family, focused on survival, runs the risk of closing itself off to life. Not infrequently, the announcement of a baby, which should be a cause for hope and joy, becomes the cause of uncertainty and worry, and ends in abortion.
On the other extreme of the family cycle, the elderly, so often alone, lack the finances to sustain them, despite the increase in pensions, in addition to the absence of essential medications and the attendant feelings.
It is right to recognize that even in the midst of a crisis, the Cuban people value family and try to create paths to happiness.
Crisis in the education system.
Although the Cuban people are literate, the education system is experiencing a crisis. The subordination of educational interests to the political-ideological system has caused that the academic level has declined drastically in the last few decades. This subjugation of education to politics explains the mutilation of critical thought, the imposition of a sole way of thought in which few people believe, the scarcity of means and competent people, the official lack of openness to other forms of education, that students are passed for convenience, and that those whose way of thinking is different from the official one are harassed and even excluded from higher education.
4. The Cry of My People
We are living through a critical moment in our nation’s history. The official attempts at responding to it reveal that the crisis involves the very structure of our system, which has shown itself clearly opposed to holding an open, transparent dialogue, and promoting verbal, psychological, and physical violence instead of seeking a realistic and inclusive debate presenting the different proposals and leading to evaluable solutions.
We need to overcome authoritarianism, so that “the temptation to appeal to the law of force more than the force of law,” and all the children of this land can have an equal seat at the table of a national dialogue, since Cuba is from all Cubans and for all Cubans. It is not ethical to modify our Homeland and give citizenship to a few privileged members of a party.
As the Cuban bishops already expressed in their message about the last Constitutional reform: “The absolute nature of the affirmation [that only in socialism and communism do humans reach their full dignity] that appears in the constitutional text excludes the effective exercise of the right to plurality of thought about man and the ordering of society… it is worth remembering José Martí’s expression: ‘A constitution is a living, practical law that cannot be constructed with ideological elements.’ It is also unethical and indeed, “very debatable that value of punishment to humanize, above all when this rigor is exercised in the scope of citizens’ simple expression of political convictions.”
Returning to the Biblical story, when God freed His people under the leadership of Moses, He does not speak against the Egyptians (the oppressors). If they had not insisted on continuing in their wickedness, enslaving themselves to the system that they had constructed, could have also listened to the Father’s voice, because He “does not want the death of the sinner, but rather that he be converted from his wicked life.” But the Pharaoh persisted in his injustice and the abuse of the people. Although pretending to listen to Moses, he did not follow through on his promise and over and over went back on his word, and this brought him destruction and death. In this way, Pharaoh and his ministers, who thought they were pursuing the people fleeing slavery, became trapped by their own persecution. This is the drama of human freedom when it props itself up as a god and ends up giving itself over to sin. As Psalm 33 says, “Evil brings death to the wicked.”
5. “Come, I will send you.”
The Cuban people, although slowly, have been overcoming and unlearning helplessness. This is a very important path to empowerment and recovery of social self-esteem. It is important that we come to feel stronger, that we convince ourselves that we can act and live without being paralyzed by fear, so that we come to express ourselves freely, to seek the good and justice while preserving peace, and to be critical of our reality, because in fact, it is the duty of everyone to contribute to the building of a new Cuba.
For believers, there is a political-economic-social commitment that comes from faith, which launches us into the world to transform it, to humanize it according to the image of full man that we can see in Christ. As Benedict XVI said, “The right to religious freedom … legitimizes believers to contribute to the building of society. Its reinforcement consolidates coexistence, nurtures hope for a better world, creates favorable conditions for peace and harmonious development, at the same time that it establishes firm foundations to strengthen the rights of future generations.”
With Pope Francis we are convinced of the need to “converse from the clear, stark truth (…) there is no longer a place for empty diplomacy, for dissimulation, for double speak, for concealment, for good manners that hide reality.” In Cuba, democracy will not be a reality, as long as plurality and diversity of thought are not accepted and respected in the national project, knowing that the authentic freedom of the person “finds its fullness in the exercise of freedom of conscience, the basis and foundation of the other human rights.”
Governments exist for the people and by the people. Just as a common citizen has rights and duties, so does the State. It is time to overcome the fallacy that we should be grateful for what in reality are the State’s duties. Health, education, social welfare, civil peace, leisure and recreation, democracy and freedom of expression— among others, they are not gifts but rights, and the State exists to guarantee them.
We urgently need:
- A better legal framework. The fact that there are no law firms that work independently of state control promotes impunity for a sector of society tied to the government, while jeopardizing any politically diverse and peacefully presented initiative.
- The recognition of the full citizenship of Cubans residing abroad. It means that they can also actively participate in the decision-making of Cuban society. As happens to all citizens of any democratic country, all Cubans must be able, from their residence abroad, to participate civically in the destiny of their nation.
- Understand what national reconciliation means. As a people, we have unresolved wounds and conflicts. We want to reconcile to live well and in peace, and this will only be possible by recognizing the existence of conflicts and seeking a solution in the midst of them. “When conflicts are not resolved but are hidden or buried in the past, there are silences that can mean becoming accomplices of grave errors and sins. But true reconciliation does not escape conflict but is achieved in conflict, overcoming it through dialogue and transparent, sincere and patient negotiation.”
- Understand the relationship between love and truth. It is a common mistake to think that the preaching of love excludes telling the truth in its dramatic realism. It will never be wise to twist the truth or acknowledge it only partially. In the encyclical Fratelli tutti, Pope Francis warns us that it is not a question of proposing a pardon by renouncing one’s rights before a powerful corrupt person, before a criminal or before someone who degrades our dignity. We are called to love everyone, without exception, but to love an oppressor is not to allow him to continue being that way; nor is it making him think that what he does is acceptable. On the contrary, to love him well is to seek in different ways that he stops oppressing, it is to take away that power that he does not know how to use and that disfigures him as a human being. Forgiving does not mean allowing them to continue trampling on their own dignity and that of others (…). Whoever suffers injustice has to vigorously defend his rights and those of his family precisely because he must preserve the dignity that he has been given, a dignity that God loves.
- Choose the truth. We need to live the truth in every decision of everyday life. This is not to collaborate with what I do not believe, not to participate in violence, acts of repudiation, the denunciation of one’s brother. Why join a parade when I do not share the reasons for the parade? Why nod in a meeting when I disagree? Why be silent when inside me I know they are not telling the truth? Why applaud if I disagree? Why listen to my fears and not to my reason? Living in the truth sometimes comes at a high price, but it makes us internally free, beyond all external coercion. To live in lies is to live in chains, and as the Bayamo Hymn teaches: “To live in chains is to live sunk in shame and disgrace.”
6. “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”
This fundamental option to live in truth and freedom reveals our real power as citizens. We are a sleeping giant that can make Cuba change; it just needs to wake up. Those who close their eyes to the affliction of this people, those who insist that Cuba not change, have the power that we have granted them, thinking that we can do nothing. Some await the change from above, others aspire for a kind of messianic leader to come and fix everything. However – we have already said it – the change begins with us, from within us.
Let’s set out on the road; let’s stop listening to our fears; let’s believe in our strength as a people. It is important that we convince ourselves that we can do something and that, however humble it may seem, our contribution is powerful. An Italian proverb says that “if a little man in his little world does a little thing, the world changes.” The first step must be to empty ourselves of hatred, because nothing good can be built on hatred. Our first victory will be “that we have no hatred in our hearts.”
Empty of hatred, we absolutely renounce violence, even verbal aggression, slander, the methods of which those who propose a new path for Cuba are victims today. They are outdated and unworthy of the new Cuba that we are beginning to build. A new Cuba must be humane and humanizing of its citizens. Our path has nothing to do with hatred and violence; and yes, with a unity that does not exclude. Good and necessary change is not possible if we remain divided. We must put down particular interests and think about common projects and aims.
Let us break the chains, the worst ones being the ones we carry in our minds and hearts. Let us choose the truth, and act like men and women who are already free. “The conquest of freedom in responsibility is an essential task for every person.” Let us listen to our conscience and push with each word and with each action in the correct direction of history, in the direction of the freedom of that new and happy Cuba that has begun to be a reality in us.
We have shared this reflection out of respect and appreciation for those men and women of good will who in the exercise of their freedom have decided not to profess the faith and who also share our desire for renewal, aware that reality challenges us all and that a Cuba for the good of all can only be built from the sincere contribution of each one.
We, as believers, consider that it is time, as a people, to return to God. This people, many years ago, turned its back on God, and when a people turns its back on God, it cannot walk. As Saint Augustine used to say, “When you run away from God, everything runs away from you.” And we fled from God, and we welcomed idols, those who promised us a better world without God, also ignoring Martí who warned that “an irreligious people will die, because nothing in it feeds virtue.” Yes, it is time, as a people, to turn our face to God, and to hear again in the burning bush his hopeful words: “I have seen the affliction of my people … and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters; I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them… Come, I will send you.”
In Cuba, January 24, 2021
23rd anniversary of the Mass of Saint John Paul II for the Homeland, in Santiago de Cuba