HAVANA, APRIL 3, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The new president of the Cuban bishops’ conference is expressing joy at signs of improved relations between the country and its neighbors, saying the Church always rejoices when what was separated comes back together.
Archbishop Dionisio García Ibáñez of Santiago de Cuba was elected as president of the conference at the 130th ordinary assembly of the Cuban episcopate, held March 23-26 in the country’s capital.
In an interview with the archdiocesan magazine, Palabra Nueva, he affirmed that “the Church in Cuba has always been close to the people, precisely because we are part of the people.”
He continued: “We are not foreign agents to our people because we are also the people, the Catholic people. Because Cuba is plural in faith and in ideology, and it is also plural in expectations and ideas about how to build the country and the nation.”
The prelate spoke on the Church’s behalf, reiterating his “decision to serve and to be here close to the people.” This attitude, manifested especially in the last two years, “will be maintained in the years to come,” he promised.
“Years moreover,” he added, “in which there is already talk of necessary changes, years in which new perspectives must be opened, and every time changes are made uncertainty is generated and the Church wants to be close in this process.”
Speaking about the “necessary changes,” Archbishop García Ibáñez said that Catholics “have the same expectations as the rest of the people,” adding that there is “an enormous variety of criteria” about what “are” and “are not necessary changes.”
He noted that “the first change is that we are speaking of the word change, because three years ago we did not speak about this.” He added: “The important thing is that the changes be at the service of the person in our society.
“This is the reason for the expectations and the desire that the necessary changes be made, to solve many of the difficulties that we are living through, and at the same time know how to maintain what must be maintained for the well-being of our people.”
Referring to signs of improvement in relations between Cuba and the United States, the prelate stated that “the Church tries to sow communion where there is disunity.” He continued: “The mission of the Church and of the bishops is to suggest the need for coming together.
“The Church rejoices when that which was separated is reunited. It is up to the politicians to decide the way it is done, so that the person, in this case the citizens of both sides, are the ones who benefit the most. And we all win when there is peace, stability, justice, solidarity and respect for the dignity of persons.”
The archbishop observed that “over the past three years there has been a need to favor and broaden communication between the Church and the authorities of the country.”
He noted, however, that there is now “a more positive understanding of the religious factor,” influenced by “a greater closeness to Latin America,” where Cuban authorities have seen “that the faith is very present in the life of the society.” He added, “I believe that this was unknown by the authorities and is now appreciated better.”
These meetings between state authorities and Church representatives have also been favored by “those earlier steps,” he affirmed, “such as greater tolerance of religious practice [and] the participation of Christians in various social structures.”
He concluded: “Also, the fact of living together the same situation influences this, as it would not be very intelligent to ignore one another. I believe it is a continuing process.”