Church in Cuba: good works and bad calls

Myriam Marquez in the Miami Herald:

Church’s good works, Cuban cardinal’s bad calls 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 sound system.

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 interviewed him.

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.”

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