“You are and should be the protagonists of your own personal and national history”
(John Paul II, Cuba 1998)
The two visits by the Supreme Pontiffs of the Catholic Church are landmarks that show a step forward taken by Cuba civil society. Cuba has changed and not only and not always for the worse. Our opinion is that between both apostolic visits there is a process that goes forward: the process of the awakening of the conscience of many persons in Cuba civil society and it goes toward citizen adulthood
Fourteen years is enough to sense the difference in Cuba society composition and the balance of forces between the different social actors. The Cuban State has won what lasts least. The Church has won, in the short run, a part of what is inherent to it. But the rest of Cuba civil society is the one that has won most. Yes, civil society has lost because there is frustration due to the manipulation of the movements and gestures of the Pope’s visit by the State; but civil society has won because since it was not recognized as an interlocutor it’s aware of the fact that it must forward in the process of citizen awakening without expecting foreign messianisms. And this is what lasts most, what matures and benefits the nation most, in the medium and long run; though it may hurt.
More than complaining hopelessly, we intend to analize other aspects of this visit regarding four of its multiple facets: Cuba in the showcase; the Pope’s gestures for Cuba; the Pope’s messages to Cuba and the Legacy of his visit.
Cuba in the showcase.
The country that the Pope is visiting becomes the center of attention for all mass media and this fact is always positive. When such transparency is attained the world has an extraordinary opportunity to know first hand the reality the Cuban people is living, the relations of domination that the authorities have established with their own citizens as well as the difference in the methods used by the government, the opposition and the rest of Cuba civil society. To know what really happens at least for a few days, gives people an idea of the way things are and results of veracity about the observed nation are always present.
The Pope’s gestures.
Saint Peter’s successor, on one hand, has had gestures of great closeness and admiration for Cuba, its cultural and religious patrimony, its founding fathers several times mentioned. One of those positive symbolic gestures was to raise the devotion for the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre to the most eminent level of universal Catholic mercy expressions when he presented the Virgin with the Golden Rose. Another gesture was the possibility for persons from the exile and the Diaspora, members of the one and only Cuban Nation, to participate in the celebrations. However, the organizers of the pontifical visit could find a time not only for the courtesy call to the Head of State –absolutely normal and appreciable in all countries visited by the Pope- but also for other encounters with persons who no longer hold public posts. This could have been understood due to its symbolic character though not necessary, if, at the same time, the Pope had briefly greeted some representatives of Cuba civil society: that other part of the Nation without which there will be no unity or inclusion or national reconciliation. The Cuban Church which will be a server in the future that the Pope anticipated in his messages, will maybe regret, in due course, this exclusive omission. This omission is an act takes into account the short run more than the medium and long journey of Cuba regarding the excluded persons and groups that will necessarily be a part of the future in our country. The Church which is an expert in humanity and counting on its bimillenary experience almost always looks farther and higher because it has all the time ahead. It’s a pity this time it was not like that. In this aspect the outcome appears to be negative. Let’s hope this outcome is put right along the every day events of the Church relations with the rest of civil society the best way possible for everybody.
The Pope’s message and his legacy.
We consider that in this aspect the outcome is maybe the most positive one if we compare it to the former ones; for the present and for the long prospect in the future. The Pope’s messages have dealt with the time ahead of us, they have looked high and far; these messages have left a rich, concrete and inclusive legacy. Let’s hope no Cuban man disregards this legacy of theological elevation, maximum humanist depth and above all, a legacy of a great love for Cuba and for all Cubans without exclusion. We hope to God that once everyone is down all Cubans from here or from abroad will study and apply these messages that have a deep ethical, civic and spiritual significance and will not be led by the stubbornness of what the very Pope called “fixed or unilateral positions”.
In this issue we publish entirely all the official texts said by Pope Benedict XVI in Cuba so that each person can choose from them what he understands is better; however, after a few days we don’t want to keep the feeling of discouragement and we offer a first and immediate selection of those texts to facilitate the study of the contribution that the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church has suggested us with a great respect and all his moral authority. At the same time we have wanted to compare them with the expectations of many people in Cuba, some of them published in our Editorial 24 in the January-February 2012 issue. Let the very Pontiff be the one who speaks to our readers:
- 1.The Pope sincerely recognizes the sufferings and the fair aspirations of Cubans.
“I carry in my heart the fair aspirations and legitimate desires of all Cubans wherever they are, their sufferings and joys, their concerns and most noble deepest desires especially young people and the elderly, adolescents and children, sick people and workers, the prisoners and their relatives as well as the poor and the people in need”. (Greeting when he arrived at the Antonio Maceo Airport).
2. Cuba is already looking at tomorrow from the patrimony of the homeland’s Fathers.
“I am convinced that Cuba, in this important moment of its history, is already looking at tomorrow and for this purpose it makes an effort to renew and widen its horizons… and the immense patrimony of values will contribute to such task… those values have made up the national most genuine identity and they are sculpted in the work and the life of many notable homeland’s fathers such as the blessed José Olallo y Valdés, Lord’ serf Félix Varela or the national hero José Martí”. (Greeting when he arrived at Antonio Maceo Airport).This message satisfies the expectations of many Cubans. We outlined it in number 8 of Editorial 24: the opening-up to the world strengthens the cultural identity and the national sovereignty.
3. The short cuts in the search for truth.
The Pope alerts us about the traps and the twists and turns we face all the time when we are searching for truth. The Pope speaks about some of them: “You will know the truth and the truth shall set you free”. (John. 8, 32). Truth is something human beings long for and the search for it always implies an exercise of authentic freedom. Many, however, prefer the short cuts and try to evade this task. Some persons, just as Poncio Pilato did, satirize the possibility of being able to know the truth. (cf. Jn. 18, 38) and they proclaim the inability of man to reach truth or deny that there is a truth for everybody. This attitude like in the case of scepticism and relativism causes a change in the hearts and make them cold, unsteady, distant from the others and locked in themselves. There are persons who wash their hands as the Roman governor did and let the water of history flow and don’t commit themselves. On the other hand there are other who misinterpret this search and go toward irrationality and fanaticism; they lock themselves in “their truth” and intend to impose it to the others; they are like those obstinate legalists who furiously shouted: “Crucify him”! as they watched Jesus beaten and bleeding”. (Cf. Jn 19, 6) (Homily during the Mass at the Civic Square José Martí in Havana).
- 4.Even God respects and needs the supreme gift of freedom.
- This message is maybe the one that has the greatest theological and humanistic scope which could serve as a solid foundation for its anthropologic, social, political and economic consequences, even religious consequences: “God not only respects human freedom but he seems to need it” (Homily during the Mass at the Antonio Maceo Square in Santiago de Cuba).
- 5.To propose, not impose, even when facing rejection and the cross.
“Christianity emphasizes the values that support ethics: it does not impose but proposes the invitation of Christ to know the truth that makes us free. The believer is called to offer it to his contemporaries… even when facing the dark premonition of rejection and the cross” (Homily during the Mass at the Civic Square José Martí” in Havana).
- 6.If we want to attain unity in the diversity we should find an ethics of minima which brings us closer.
- “Every human being must investigate the truth and choose it when he finds it even at the risk of facing sacrifices. Besides, the truth about man is an unavoidable assumption to reach freedom since freedom makes us discover the foundation of an ethics to which every one can face up. This ethics has got clear and precise formulations about life and death, duties and rights, matrimony, family and society, in short, about the inviolable dignity of the human being. This ethical patrimony is what can bring closer all cultures, peoples and religions, the authorities and the citizens and the citizens among them, also the ones who believe in Christ and the ones who don’t”. (Homily at the Civic Square José Martí in Havana).
- This message coincides with the expectations of numerous compatriots and they are stated in number 4 of our Editorial 24 which dealt with the contribution of the Pope’s teachings to: the reconstruction of the sovereign fabric of civil society. The search for an ethics with a minimum common denominator which includes everybody in the national living together is and can be the steadiest foundations of the reconstruction of relations among citizens and between citizens and authorities which should be at the service of civil society and not the opposite.
- 7.May Cuba be the house for all of us, without excluding God or men.
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”. (Jn 1, 14). The expression “became flesh” points out the most concrete and tangible human reality. In Christ, God has entered our history, has put his dwelling among us thus fulfilling the intimate aspiration of the human being that the world may really be a home for man; but when God is cast out the world becomes an inhospitable place for man…” (Homily during the Mass at the Antonio Maceo Square in Santiago de Cuba). “Virgin Mary, with her presence in the Sanctuary of El Cobre from where she accompanies the path of the Church in this Nation… encourages all Cubans so that, under Christ’s guiding they may discover the genuine meaning of the eagerness and wishes that dwell in the human heart and so that they may find the necessary strength to build a society of solidarity in which no one feels excluded… May nobody be disabled to join this fascinating task because of the limitation of his personal liberties; may nobody be exempted from the task because of apathy or lack of material resources which is a situation that becomes worse when restrictive economic measures are imposed from abroad and are a burden on the population”. (Farewell words at the José Martí Airport in Havana).
These teachings satisfy other expectations shared by many persons and outlined in number 1 of Editorial 24: Charity unites us. Unity is inclusion. It proposes an inclusive and supportive society which is not blocked from abroad and much less from inside because of the apathy, repression or disrespectful disregard for diversity on the part of the very civil or ecclesiastic authorities. We can’t understand how the government can respect and feel affection for a foreign visitor’s thinking, whether it is different of coincident -in this case, the Pope’s thinking- and is unable to do the same thing regarding its own citizens who are pacific, independent and respectful of the laws of coexistence in the land where they were born.
- 8.The role of the Church in Cuba: to show its true face without fear or complex.
“Dear brothers and sisters, I know how much effort, courage and selflessness you show to work every day under the concrete circumstances of your Country in this time of history so that the Church reflects more and more its true face as a place where God approaches and meets man. The Church… has the mission of extending the liberating presence of God on earth; the mission of opening up the world to something greater than itself, to the love and the light of God. It’s worth it to devote all our lives to Christ… Easter is near so let us decide, without fear or complex, to follow Jesus in his path toward the cross. Let us accept patiently and faithfully any setback of grief, with the conviction that, in his resurrection, he has defeated the power of evil which makes everything dark; he has made possible the dawning of a new world, the world of God, of light, of truth and joy”. (Homily during the Mass at the Antonio Maceo Square in Santiago de Cuba).
Expectation number 9 in our Editorial 24 expected from the Pope a message which may exhort us to: the transition from fear to hope and from hope to the reconstruction of the Country. These teachings at the Antonio Maceo Square confirm and satisfy many persons who want to overcome fear and open a more breathable world. At the same time, it is an exhortation to the Cuban Church to be faithful to Jesus Christ, to reflect its true face and not to be afraid of the cross of its Lord. Cooperation and confidence cannot exist at any cost. We cannot stop being part of ourselves so that we don’t have any problems with the ones different from us. Society and the Church cannot exclude part of their messages or part of the persons that make up them for being different in order to please the other part of that very society or that very Church, in order to talk, trust or cooperate with this other part. Confidence and cooperation must be with all parts otherwise they are not believable cooperation or confidence. What is at stake is the authenticity and credibility of all parts.
9.The true religious freedom includes the social and political performance of believers.
“The indispensable contribution that religion is destined to perform in the public sphere of society”. (Greeting on the arrival at the Antonio Maceo Airport). “The right to religious freedom, in the individual dimension as well as in the communitarian dimension shows the unity of the human person who is a citizen and a believer at the same time. This right also legitimizes the fact that believers offer a contribution to the building of society. The reinforcement of this right consolidates the act of living together, nurtures the hope for a better world, creates favourable conditions for peace and harmonious development and at the same time it establishes steady bases to consolidate the rights for future generations. Whenever the Church highlights this right it’s not demanding a privilege; it just intends to be faithful to what its divine founder mandated, conscious of the fact that wherever Christ makes Himself present, man grows in humanity and finds his consistence”. (Homily during the Mass at the José Martí Civic Square in Havana).
In number 6 of our cited Editorial we reviewed what some Cubans hoped the Pope would clarify: the authentic concept of free expression and performance of Christian religion: Toward a true religious freedom. The Pope has clearly said that the rights of the future generations cannot separate the believer condition from the citizen condition and the citizen’s contribution to the building of society. So we conclude that: religious freedom is not only freedom of worship or what we have called “freedom of permissions”. The law must open and guarantee three things for all without distinction or exclusion: to profess worship, the exercise of the Christian labor by present prophets which includes announcement and denounce; and social, political and economic service. This service is demanded of believers according to the Christian understanding of the human person and the world.
10.The way to changes: teaching how to think and educating virtuous
“Cuba and the world need changes but these changes will occur only if each person is fit to ask himself for the truth and decides himself to follow the road of love and sow reconciliation and fraternity. An illustrious example of this work was the notable priest Félix Varela who was an educator and a teacher and a distinguished son of this city of Havana; he has went down in the history of Cuba as the first man who taught his people how to think. Father Varela shows us the way to a true social transformation: to educate virtuous men in order to create a dignified and free nation since this transformation will depend on man’s spiritual life as “there is no fatherland without virtue”. (Cartas a Elpidio, carta sexta, Madrid 1836, 220). (Homily during the Mass at the José Martí Civic Square in Havana). Before the eyes of the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre I wish to make an appeal to you… so that you live from Christ and for Christ and with the weapons of peace, forgiveness and understanding; so that you fight in order to build an open and renewed society, a better society, more worthy of man; a society that should reflect the kindness of God more”. (Homily during the Mass at the Antonio Maceo square in Santiago de Cuba).
According Felix to Father Félix Varela’s very Cuban teachings the Pope has told us clearly that Cuba needs changes and that the way and the spirit of changes must be without trauma. This satisfies some of those expectations of wide sectors of our society that we reflected it in Editorial 24, to be precise, in number 2: The spirit that should promote the pacific and gradual structural changes. And in number 7: National reconciliation: truth, justice, amnesty and magnanimity. The portico of this visit was open by Benedict XVI in the middle of the flight to Mexico when he expressed. “The way Marxist ideology was conceived no longer corresponds to reality and the Church is available to help changes to be undertaken without trauma”. Let’s notice that he does not speak about the way Marxist ideology was put into practice in the former USSR or in the Socialist field but about the way it was conceived. We believe that this clear denounce which is one part of the prophetic message of every Christian has been excellently complemented by the other part of the prophetic work which is the announcement made by the very Pope inside Cuba about the way, the style and the protagonists that should guarantee changes to be without violence or trauma. Indeed we consider there are two deep causes as a result of more than 60 years of authoritarianism and totalitarian paternalism that could lead us to violence and trauma: The anthropological damage due to depersonalization and ethical and civic illiteracy which lead to personal and social anomy. These root causes of social and political evils should be overcome through an ethical and civic education that regenerates the human person and pacific coexistence.
11. It’s the hour for coexistence and national dialogue that banish the immovable positions.
“The present hour urgently requires that immovable positions and unilateral viewpoints should be banished from the human national and international coexistence; such positions and viewpoints tend to make understanding more arduous and tend to make inefficient the effort for cooperation. The incidental discrepancies and difficulties must be solved by searching tirelessly what unites us all, with patient and sincere dialogue, with reciprocal understanding and a loyal will for listening which accepts goals of new hope”. (Farewell words at José Martí Airport in Havana).
In his farewell words at the Airport, the Pope finishes the masterly strokes of his messages and his legacy. We want to emphasize these teachings which have responded and exceeded the expectations of many persons; we had stated these expectations in number 3 of our Editorial 24: The promotion of the sovereignty of citizens and a national inclusive dialogue about essential topics. And in its number 5: The decriminalization of discrepancy.
12.May every Cuban feel himself an essential protagonist of the future of his life, his family and his fatherland.
“I finish my pilgrimage here but I will continue praying fervently so you can carry on and Cuba can be the house of all and for all Cubans where justice and freedom coexist in a climate of serene fraternity. The respect and cultivation of freedom which lies in the heart of every man is indispensable to properly respond to the fundamental demands of his dignity and thus build a society in which everyone feels he is an indispensable protagonist of the future of his life, his family and his fatherland” (Farewell words at the José Martí Airport in Havana).
Here is the key to everything; this is the legacy we consider most important and transcendent and at the same time it is the continuity of the unforgettable message said by Pope John Paul II in 1998 which was emphasized as an essential expectation many persons had in the number 10 of Editorial 24: We Cubans, women and men are and should be the protagonists of our own personal and national history. Like never before, during the 500 years of our history, Cuba civil society, which is not incipient but already growing, has reached a consensus in some central topics. We will mention some of these topics: to be sovereign about our own personal history with the commitment of weaving a civic coexistence; to unite in diversity accepting that democracy is plural, diverse and complex; to agree in some ethical minima such as: the purpose to attain democracy and the use of pacific methods to achieve it.
We have experienced the visit paid to us by Benedict XVI. This visit leaves us a new and great challenge which emerges as a consequence of his teachings: to realize at last, that changes will not come from abroad or from above but from inside and from below which means to say: through the exercise of each citizen’s sovereignty in a personal and corporate way. From abroad: solidarity, support and respect for what we undertake inside: and not the other way around.
We believe that the greatest challenge this visit leaves us is the fact that we cannot and should not continue waiting for a specific event or for a messiah who should come to redeem us from outside, not even the representative of the Messiah Christ. We have, it’s about time, arrived to the stage when we are disappointed in false messianisms and imported solutions. Cuba will be in the future only what we Cubans, women and men should be capable of doing among all of us, as protagonists of our own personal and national history.
This is the only, authentic and lasting civic adulthood.
Pinar del Río, Aril 8th 2012-04-26