Cardinal Ortega of Havana on the Church's Role in Reconciliation

«One Cannot Ask the Church to Become the Opposition Party»

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HAVANA, JUNE 9, 2003 ( Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino, archbishop of Havana, delivered an address recently in the St. John Lateran Convent of the Dominicans, on «Concerns and Pledges of the Church in View of Our Nation’s Future.»

After the talk, the cardinal was open to questions. Here is an excerpt of what was said.

Q: Is the Church in and outside of Cuba prepared for the mission of reconciliation? If not, what can be done?

Cardinal Ortega: I think that the Church as such and Catholics who are more involved in the life of the Church, are concerned about reconciliation. This is so in regard to Cuba and Cubans, and the need for all of us to be reconciled.

However, reconciliation is a most difficult word to accept. I have seen this myself. For example, when I went to Miami as cardinal, someone warned me: Don’t mention the word reconciliation because they won’t accept it. Is this category, then, which is at the heart of Jesus’ message, so difficult for a Christian? Because the spirit, the very breath of the Christian faith is love and reconciliation.

On some occasions, in statements I have made in Cuba — statements that we bishops have made — we have used the word reconciliation but it has been rejected.

In a newspaper here, it must have been Granma, the rejection was a bit indirect as often happens with the things we say. It stated: What kind of reconciliation are some talking about? In fact, it is a term rejected on both sides. Everyone says: With whom are we going to be reconciled, with those who commit this or that offense? The other side says the same thing: With whom are we to be reconciled?

As you know, this is not a reconciliation that is entrusted to the Church for a political mediation between two factions, as has been the case with so many processes of reconciliation in Guatemala and other countries of Latin America.

Many times people think it is something like this, used in a similar way. In other words, that it is a process in which there is a series of deals among politicians, between factions that at times are confronted in guerrillas, in order to come to an agreement and emerge from a lamentable situation for a nation, and be able to determine a way out.

But this is not the case. A Catholic, and with him the Church, can engage in extensive and serious reconciliation. First, for many here, given the reality we have had to live with, it is possible to live without being reconciled.

Reconciliation does not mean full acceptance, or, evidently, the joy of thinking that the existing situation can be overcome. What we need, for example, is to reconcile ourselves to the fact that the Lord has placed us here and we must flower here in the order of love, of service, etc.

And I am speaking in a Christian vein because we are speaking of the Church. I think that same spirit exists also in other Christians who live abroad. Indeed, today there is a desire to pursue reconciliation. …

Q: How can the Church in Cuba promote a spirituality of hope?

Cardinal Ortega: To promote that hope, which I said is the only one the Church can offer, we must look to Christ, who is our absolute future, that Christ who said: «Fear not, my little flock, I have overcome evil … I am with you always.»

There is a horizon that opens up before me, which goes beyond the contingent future and is rooted in a kind of eternity, which is not distant, but which is lived in a purer, higher attitude.

It is that reality of Jesus, who said: «My Kingdom is not of this world,» and one begins to live in that reality that goes beyond this world’s narrowness. Only in this way can one have access to hope. Because at times calculations make one lose hope.

I said in my pastoral letter: «I think the principal reason for the emigration of Cubans is lack of hope.» Is it the economic factor? Yes, as an immediate reason, but the economic factor without any hope that the economy will improve.

And so, lack of hope is created in many areas: There is no hope of having a better salary, of a better financial opportunity. It is true that things are tight today, but there is also a conviction that things will not improve, so that one can get ahead.

So, I cannot give false hope by saying: Yes, you will see how things will change, because from whom can I elicit that hope? From good will? I cannot say that. I can only say: This is my hope, the only one I can give you, the hope of living on a higher plane, in which you are able to face those hopeless human situations through faith in Jesus Christ. …

Q: When a government or political system becomes a tyranny, what is, or should be, the position of the Church and of Catholics?

Cardinal Ortega: The position of the Church and of Catholics before systems that might be totalitarian, tyrannical or authoritarian in any way, must be in accord with the way that we here, today, have presented the total mission of the Church. …

The Church does not have — I have said this in interviews I have had abroad — the mission to be an opposition party which, sadly, does not exist in Cuba. I would like one, two or three parties to exist with different ideas, but that is a very personal wish of mine. There aren’t any, but one cannot ask the Church to become the opposition party.

Nor can the Church be asked to support the revolutionary government either. In either case, they have always known what we have said: We are here to proclaim the Kingdom of God.

When there is a possibility, as there was a referendum in Chile to say yes or no, the Church did not say: Say no. Nor did the Church say: Say yes. Rather, it said: Go to the referendum and vote according to your conscience. It’s the only thing the Church can do. The moral force it has, beginning with its mission, cannot be used in one way or another according to the characteristics that societies or countries might have where it exists.

Normally, what we must always do is to commune with the mystery of the cross; in all cases, our lot has been to suffer, and we might have to suffer and die. But not to die for this or that cause, but to die for love, for service, for reconciliation, for the good of the human being.

When some journalists asked me in Havana’s seminary one day in the month of February: Why doesn’t the Church support the Varela Plan? I said, Well, the Church does not have to support any plan of that order.

There are many plans in Cuba; there is the Oath of Baragua, the Marta Beatriz plan «The Homeland Belongs to All.» Among the dissidents, some do not support the Varela Plan, others, among the dissidents, do not support The Homeland Belongs to All.

However, I did say one thing: The Church does support freedom of conscience and that is why I congratulated Oswaldo Paya for the award he received which was for freedom of conscience, because he acted with freedom.

The Church can defend the values of the Kingdom in any circumstance and speak of them as I did in my pastoral letter «There Is No Homeland Without Virtue,» speaking of liberty, and the need to teach people how to think. To repeat slogans is not freedom. It is values that constitute conditions so that the Kingdom of God will come, and which, at the same time, humanize man.

The existence of political options is very good and necessary, but they can never be options of the Church. The option of the Church would then become subsumed in this or that plan.

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