Cuba in a "Subtle Struggle Against the Church"

Says Cardinal Ortega, Archbishop of Havana

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MILAN, Italy, OCT. 7, 2003 (ZENIT.orgAvvenire).- The Catholic Church is still facing obstacles in Cuba, says the archbishop of Havana.

Cardinal Jaime Lucas Ortega, who visited Italy recently, spoke to Catholics in Milan about the situation of the Church in Cuba. In this interview, the 67-year-old cardinal pointed out the challenges facing the Church in the island nation.

Q: What has changed in recent months in Cuba?

Cardinal Ortega: I must say little or nothing, at least from the economic and social point of view. Life continues as before, with the restrictions and difficulties that are well known. Criticisms and arguments with some foreign governments have inflamed political life. However, I repeat, daily life has neither improved nor worsened.

Q: Does the activity of the Church continue to suffer limitations?

Cardinal Ortega: After the Pope’s visit in January 1998, the Church found greater acceptance at the social level. We have a very active Caritas. There are voluntary initiatives in parishes at the service of the poor and the sick. However, the Church’s presence continues to be very limited at the level of education and the media.

Q: In its last document, the Catholic bishops’ conference of Cuba, which you preside over, referred to the socialist regime’s return to the ideological struggle of the 1960s. What does this mean?

Cardinal Ortega: We have the impression that our country is in a subtle struggle against the Church, regarded as a private institution which must be left aside so that it will not detract from the strength and energy of the revolution.

The Office of Religious Affairs of the Central Committee of the Communist Party is always hovering over us. It is an organ of control which limits the evangelizing action of the Church.

For the Cuban state, the Church is either an ally or an enemy — an ideological view that does not take into account the Church’s authentic nature and mission in the world.

Q: Is it true that many people rediscovered the Church after the Pope’s visit?

Cardinal Ortega: Yes, there has been a rapprochement on the part of those who in previous years had left the Church for fear of possible repercussion on the social level. There are also those who are seeking new spiritual horizons.

Let’s say that at the religious level there has been growth, not spectacular, but certainly significant. The numbers are small, but we must keep in mind that Cuba’s population continues to decrease.

Q: Are you referring to emigration?

Cardinal Ortega: Yes. It is Cuba’s most serious problem; a problem that concerns us very much. Too many people leave or try to leave.

However, it is not only the phenomenon of illegal emigration. As soon as someone obtains a visa to go to a foreign country, he leaves and does not return. This is especially true of young people. It means that we have definitely lost hope in our country. And this is very sad.

Q: Is dialogue with the socialist regime of Cuba still possible?

Cardinal Ortega: As John Paul II said in his address in Havana, only through dialogue can difficulties be overcome. I remain faithful to this principle.

For us, the Pope is a very close presence. He knows our situation very well, as he experienced something similar in Poland. I don’t think John Paul II has changed his mind. This was expressed recently by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, [Vatican] secretary of state.

When asked if the Holy See was going to break relations with Cuba following the capital executions and prison sentences of many political opponents, he replied that the Pope would not cease to promote dialogue. «He intends to continue it, although it is increasingly difficult.»

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