Cuba's Cardinal Analyzes Impact of John Paul II's Pontificate

«An Effort to Take History Out of Its Inertia»

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HAVANA, NOV. 24, 2003 ( Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino, archbishop of Havana, assessed the 25 years of John Paul II’s pontificate by describing it as «a colossal effort to take history out of its present inertia.»

In this interview with Spanish Radio-Television, the Cuban cardinal also analyzes the repercussions of John Paul II’s visit to Cuba.

Q: Eminence, could you give an assessment of John Paul II’s papacy?

Cardinal Ortega: It is not possible in a few minutes to refer to John Paul II’s extraordinary pontificate, the best-known Pope in history, the most seen, the one who has gone around the world in over 100 trips to different countries, whose messages, encyclicals, homilies and addresses fill dozens and dozens of books; a Pope of profound thought, of great heart, a man of prayer who at the same time engages in untiring activity, overcoming the obstacles of illness, of physical pain, and of the sorrows he bears as universal Father because of the evils that afflict the men and women of today.

Pope John Paul II will go down in history as a fighter, as a firm and courageous witness of Jesus Christ during a period when the world has fallen prey to false ideologies. This confusion arose primarily from the frustration and suspicion of the long period of the Cold War that has resulted in calculated indifference in the new generations.

John Paul II has not ceased to proclaim to the world the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He has not ceased to confront the wall of indifference to the hunger and malnutrition of so many human beings, to address the devastating action of poverty, drought, AIDS, especially in Africa.

He has not ceased to awaken the consciences of the contented on earth to a solidarity with the dispossessed worldwide. Popes have always talked on a world scale, but John Paul II has done so to a world in the process of globalization, technically intercommunicated, but lacking in vital, human, solidaristic communication.

John Paul II’s pontificate is a colossal effort to take history out of its present inertia.

Q: What contribution has John Paul II made to the social doctrine of the Church?

Cardinal Ortega: Let’s begin by saying that a lexicon has been published of the social doctrine of John Paul II; because not only in his great encyclicals, such as «Centesimus Annus» or «Sollicitudo Rei Socialis,» but in many addresses, homilies and different talks of the Pope, there are constant references to different aspects of the social doctrine of the Church.

The world is used to hearing a language on man and society that focuses on individual rights, on freedom and democracy with little or no reference made to the just distribution of wealth or social care of citizens. Yet, great emphasis is placed on sharing the goods of the earth and on attaining widespread social justice. However, in practice, the individual’s human rights are forfeited and an authoritarian state carries out its social program.

The social doctrine of the Church is integrating, and its projection can be summarized in words taken from Pope John Paul II’s homily in Revolution Square in Havana on January 25, 1998: «For many political and economic systems prevailing today, the greatest challenge continues to be to be able to combine freedom with social justice, freedom with solidarity, so as not to relegate any one of these to an inferior plane. In this connection, the social doctrine of the Church aspires to illuminate and conciliate relations between the inalienable rights of every man and social needs, so that the person will attain his most profound aspirations and integral fulfillment.»

Q: What has been his role in the post-Cold War historical processes?

Cardinal Ortega: With the end of the Cold War, the world has tended to stagnate. There are those who speak of the end of history.

Pope John Paul II has invigorated the period of transition between the end of a millennium and the beginning of another through the latent energies in the Gospel. He calls Christians to a new evangelization of the world and invites all peoples to open their doors to Jesus Christ.

In the post-Cold War historical processes in Eastern Europe, in Cuba, and in every other part of the world, the Pope has not ceased to propose dialogue as the way to solve conflicts, even when this calls for reconciliation and forgiveness. And, in face of the great economic challenges that have repercussions on the social life of peoples, the Pope urges a solidarity that takes the weakest into account.

Q: What is your assessment of John Paul II’s [1998] visit to Cuba?

Cardinal Ortega: It was one of the most anticipated visits by the Pope and the world, and one of the most followed by the media. Focused in a political way by many, it was perceived by some as the meeting between John Paul II and Fidel Castro, and by others as the presence in a country of the former Communist orbit, of the most outstanding representative of the values of the Christian faith. Political expectations arose among observers.

It was a long-awaited pastoral visit both by the Pope and by Cuban Catholics, a meeting of the universal Pastor with that part of the flock that lives in Cuba, and so the Pope came, he confirmed the bishops in their mission, he met with families and young people, with the sick and with the world of culture, and he left a trail of light and hope in Cuban Catholics and in our nation in general, so that the Church received a new and lasting impetus in its mission.

As these were our expectations, they were amply fulfilled. Expectations of a political kind, however, not being well founded, were frustrated.

Q: What problems will John Paul II leave pending to his successor?

Cardinal Ortega: Every period will have its problems and what today is seen as such, tomorrow is modified by different circumstances. The next Pope will also have the grace of God to address the problems he encounters or those which are generated in his time; but these cannot be described today, as each problem depends on the time in which it develops.

Q: John Paul II has been the most visible Pope. He has stretched the boundaries of the Church to the ends of the world. But his moral doctrine has been contested or ignored in the West. Is the Catholic Church being perceived as an exacting Church in the moral order and, consequently, as a Church of minorities?

Cardinal Ortega: Let’s not forget that the Pope’s moral doctrine includes above all the service of love to one’s neighbor, the struggle against personal or group egoism, and the constant call to solidarity. Christian morality is challenging also in these aspects. Let us not reduce morality to its sexual aspects, to the marital relationship.

Our world is not wicked; it doesn’t reject some moral doctrines because it has made a choice for evil or corruption; rather, it is a frail world, the men and women of today have submerged themselves in a multiple sensorial reality that entices them.

Faced with statistical or psychological interpretations of what is right or acceptable, there is a loss of the sense of what is true. We are before a human being who is apparently well informed, but with very little formation.

One cannot be silent in face of this crisis. The truth must be proposed over and over, even if it seems that few accept it, even if they reject, to a greater or lesser extent, the obligations it entails.

There have always been few who accept fully Jesus’ message and its obligations in social, political, family and personal life.

The Church has always acted like the man who throws a stone in stagnant waters and produces a movement of concentric circles which unfold from a focal point to the periphery. The smaller circles closer to the place of impact receive it more fully, but there is an influence that reaches to the border.

The Pope knows this, he acts like this, and the Churc
h will continue to act like this too. It is the style of Jesus’ parables: the grain of mustard that produces a great bush, the handful of leaven that ferments the dough. Jesus’ message is always one of impact on minorities and of universal influence. Q: Wojtyla has changed the figure of the Pope. What qualities must his successor have?

Cardinal Ortega: Those proper to his priestly personality, his spirituality, his way of being a pastor. No one will be able to imitate Pope John Paul II, and no one will attempt it.

The brilliant papacy of Pius XII seemed irreplaceable and John XXIII gave his pontificate his own stamp of simplicity and affection. John Paul II’s successor will be very different from him, but I am sure that he will always be the man that God wills for that particular time in the history of the Church and of humanity.

[Transcription issued by «Ecclesia in Habana»; adapted slightly here]

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