“To live is to love. To love is to resurrect”. These mystical verses by Dulce María LOynaz can summarize the life and the work of the emeritus archbishop from Santiago de Cuba, Pedro Claro Meurice Estiú who was rightly called “the Lion of the East”.
The end of his pilgrimage took him by surprise in another shore of Cuba which is only one; it happened maybe as a visible sign of his passion to unify the Nation-in-Diaspora. And now that it happened there is a numerous and urgent question: what has been his legacy for his Fatherland and for his Church?
This question is too imminent and the answer will transcend the painful door of his path to the House of the Father. So history, with its rhythm and its necessary and inviolable timing will respond, with greater depth and range. But we shouldn’t let go the time for open reflection after death and we should start saying something, with emotion, about that legacy which is undoubtedly, a patrimony of all Cubans, believers or nonbelievers, the Cubans of the present and the Cubans of the future: to live in the coherence of what we believe and what we do.
Monsignor Meurice was an incarnation of wisdom, of close love to Cuba and unrestricted fidelity to his Church. From that incarnation, tough like the rock of Peter and clear as the second number of the patriarch, didn’t come out the roar of a forest lion but the transparent voice of the voiceless. In that sense is that we understand the description “the Lion of the East”, as the voice of many Cubans who found reception and amplification in his voice and channelled their suffering and hope through this large “vita-fone” (never better said: voice of life).
Since the commotion of his leaving we wish to draw some points of his legacy, not with our words but with his own words in the most solemn and transcendent moment of his teaching: the presentation of the Cuban people before the blessed image of the Virgin of Charity which left El Cobre for the Square and before the Church Supreme Pontiff whose long-suffering hands that know our reality were to crown the Queen of Cuba; she had already been acknowledged by Juan Gualberto Gómez as a “native emblem”.
He stated this almost at the beginning of his short presentation during the bright morning of that Saturday 24th of January 1998: “this is an indomitable and hospitable land; it is a cradle of freedom and a home of open heart… this land guards the bell of La Demajagua and the blessed image of the Virgin of Charity from El Cobre, (1) in its core of dignity and its roots of cubanhood.
The threads to weave the civic cohabitation have already been mentioned: spaces, fraternity, freedom and solidarity. These are the textual words that Mons. Meurice left us: “Cuba is a people that have a deep vocation for solidarity but throughout its history the spaces for association and participation that civil society has enjoyed have been dismantled or paralyzed so I present you the soul of one nation that longs for rebuilding fraternity by a lot of liberty and solidarity”.
The anthropologic failure is the worst of the damages of the State paternalism. The way out must be found, according to Meurice’s legacy, through a process of personalization and empowerment of the citizens for them to be able to choose and design their own life project: “I present you all of the Cubans and the ones from Santiago de Cuba who cannot find a meaning for their lives, who have not been able to choose and develop a life project because of a path of depersonalization which is a result of paternalism”.
The civic and political illiteracy which is a result of the ideological manipulation of teaching has produced confusion and uprootness. That loss of the ethical consciousness leads to generalization and escapism. To educate is to teach how to discern and not how to maneuver in the consciousnesses that are confused. That is why in that “Antonio Maceo” Square the diagnosis that follows resounded so strongly; this was the first time that someone said it so clearly and so publicly for four decades. The whole world listened to it; it was the voice of the Lion from the East. Though in a decreasing way, confusion still goes on: “I present you a group of Cubans who have mixed up the concept of Fatherland with one party; who have mixed up the concept of nation with the historic process we have experienced for the last decades and they have mixed up culture with one ideology. They are Cubans who reject all at once without discernment so they feel rootless; they reject everything from here and overvalue all that is foreign”.
The necessary laicism of the State and the right to religious freedom of all Cubans, men and women, should not be an uncivil pretext to erase in one go, the history of this Island which is overlapped, whether we want it or not, with the Church that came from Spain and got mixed with the African and the protestant Churches and made up the miscellaneous fabric of the national “ajiaco” (2). Better than erase we should rescue the memory of these paths of the Nation’s soul. If we are forgetful of everything related to the values of the spirit and if we replace them with secularist complexes, ideological messianisms or denominational taboos, the spirit of the peoples dry out and also they are submitted to the most spurious idols and slaveries. Once more, Dulce María Loynaz had said it in a poetic way: “if we don’t use our soul as a root, we dry out”. That’s why I consider that this part of the words said by Monsignor Meurice should not be obviated or left only for Catholics. Cuba’s matrix, for being Catholic, which means “universal” is and should be a uterus without exclusions. Monsignor Pedro el Claro said this: “Holy Father, we present you the glorious epoch of Father Varela from the San Carlos Seminar in Havana and from the San Antonio María Claret Seminar in Santiago, but also the dark years in which, due to the chaos of the council, the Church was decimated at the beginning of the 19th century (…), it went through the threshold of this century trying to recover itself until in the 50’s it found its maximum splendour and cubanhood (…) Later, as a result of the ideological confrontation with Marxism-Leninism which was induced by the State it was impoverished again: poor means and a few pastoral agents; but the Church was not poor regarding the motions of the spirit, for example: the National Ecclesial Cuban Encounter (…) It was a Church in a stage of real growing and a long-suffering credibility which arises from the experienced and shared cross. Perhaps some persons might mistake this religious awakening for a cult of pietism or for a fake inner peace that escapes from commitment”.
Sister Mirtha, a nun who accompanied Monsignor Meurice during his whole episcopate and the last moments of his life on earth, tells that his last words were: “Don’t split up! Don’t split up! Don’t split up! It’s the plea of the good pastor who takes care of the communion of his people until his last breath. An interpretation of this triple plea could be: don’t split up as a Church; don’t split up as a people; don’t be away from God, from the good, from the true things. The necessities of communion could be others: unity in diversity, not in uniformity. To sail striding and slowing down through the history of one people means to plough through a day’s run of accompanied fleet; of fleet without sides though they might be of diverse passages or merchants. It’s to overcome the age of exclusive ships, violent pirates or armies resisting the temptation to dismember, to exclude or separate the ones who are not, don’t think, don’t believe or don’t act as one of the parties. It’s to build a ship-country “with room for everyone” as Martí said. Under the mantle of the virgin that is called “Caridad” in Cuba, the strongest link of communion, Meurice who was a good captain of the ship of Jesus, traced this route through the turbulent Caribbean Sea: “the nation lives here and lives in the Diaspora. The Cuban man suffers lives and waits here and also suffers lives and waits out there. We are only one people that is sailing in strides over all the seas, we continue seeking unity which will never be the result of uniformity but the result of a common and shared soul based on diversity”.
Amartya Sen is a recognized Hindu economist who has made a contribution to humanity: the demonstration of a social scientist about the reciprocal relation between personal freedom and the development of peoples. We Cubans, men and women, know by the experience backed up with every day life, that no reform or updating of any economic, political or social system will result in the development of the nation if we don’t recognize legally, promote in society and educate consciously that the freedom of the human person is the base, the foundation and the driving force of every progress. Without freedom there is no responsibility and without responsibility there is no possible development. Back in the context of 1898 this truth was as visible as a light in the dark and so states the patriarch who presents his people: “The Church in Latin America made in Puebla the option for the poor and the poorest amongst us are those who don’t have the valued gift of freedom”.
It must open itself up and leave behind its selfishness and exclusions between Cubans, men and women and it should open itself up to the world because the world wants to open itself to Cuba for a long time now.
John Paul II had already said it in that very visit. The words by Meurice have a dialogue with the Polish Pope’s desire. Cuba must enter the future along the bridges of the interdependence of solidarity and the community of globalization. Cuba’s geography as an Island never marked Cubans negatively. We are people of open nature, hospitable, frank, expressive and warm. The foreign and continental ideology that locked us in an island blockade was, by the way, conceived, in the making, in another Island in Northern Europe but exported to the Caribbean already under the seven bolts of Eastern Siberia. Nothing more alien to our character and vocation. With prophetic words, under the radiant Sun of the Cuban East, Pedro Claro Meurice Estiú closed significantly his words by opening the bolts of the minds and building bridges over the blockades of authoritarianism when he said: “This is a people that have a vocation of universality and it is a creator of bridges of neighbourhood and affection but it is more and more blocked by foreign interests and it suffers from a selfishness culture due to the hard economic and moral crisis we undergo”.
Many persons these days have emphasized the prophetic character and the vital coherence between faith and life showed by Mons. Meurice. Many have clarified that these words were pronounced as a Pastor and not as a political maneuverer because the coherence in which he lived and guided his people didn’t align with “politics” from a party or parties. “Don’t split up” was his last advice in the search for the inclusive and universal communion; because as a pastor of the “polis” he was entrusted with, he did and said what he thought it was better in order to reach the common good and that means Politics in a wide, inclusive sense and as the Pope Pío XII used to say: “politics is an eminent form of Charity”. Meurice also lived Charity prophetically.
One day, history and Church will look for and emphasize vehemently “this voice that cried out in the desert”.
Just as Meurice could courageously live the unwavering coherence between his two loves: Cuba and the Gospel of Christ, we Cubans, men and women should live the coherence between what we feel, what we believe, what we say and what we do, without deceitfulness and without fear.
That would be the best monument to the memory of the pastor who was strong, who saw far, spoke clearly and loved much… and acted consistently.
Pinar de Río, August 4th 2011
(1)All the quotations in italics are from the speech of presentation and greetings to the Pope by Mons. Meurice. The speech was delivered at the beginning of the Mass in Santiago de Cuba on the 24th January 1998.
(2) Ajiaco: A stew made up of many ingredients. The “ajiaco” is an analogy with the Cuban society.