The Cuba That Will Welcome Benedict XVI (Part 1)

Cardinal Archbishop of Havana Speaks of Faith on the Island

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry

By H. Sergio Mora

ROME, DEC. 15, 2011 ( Cardinal Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino, archbishop of Havana, Cuba, was in a front row of St. Peter’s basilica when Benedict XVI announced his second visit to Latin America, in particular to Mexico and Cuba.

Who better than a cardinal can understand what Benedict XVI’s visit will signify? 

The cardinal spoke with ZENIT about what the Holy Father will find in Cuba.

[Part 2 of this interview will be published Friday.]

ZENIT: We are nearing Christmas, which is not celebrated in Cuba. Did something change after John Paul II’s visit?

Cardinal Ortega: Well yes, so many things changed after John Paul II’s trip. For example, the fact that Christmas is now observed with a civil celebration and a day off when no one works. In addition, the entry of missionaries in Cuba, both civil and religious, was made easier and there was a real renewal of Catholic life, of communities. In the life of the Church in Cuba Church, one can see a before and an after with Pope John Paul II’s visit.

ZENIT: Benedict XVI announced his trip to Cuba, but with the invitation of the state?

Cardinal Ortega: The invitation to the present Pontiff was extended at the beginning of his pontificate, and reiterated by President Raúl Castro the same day that he became the nation’s president. At that moment, Cardinal Bertone was visiting Havana, and the very cordial and warm invitation was extended to come to Cuba. This is connected with John Paul II’s trip, which left a new relationship and the desire to meet him again.

ZENIT: What is the situation in seminaries and with vocations?

Cardinal Ortega: They increased with the Pope’s visit, especially vocations to the priestly life. The number of priests increased after John Paul II’s visit. We are now360 and were then just over 200. The life of the Church has grown. Worship in Cuba hasn’t been a problem, what has been lacking are public manifestations and expression of the faith.

ZENIT: Do people appreciate public manifestations of faith?

Cardinal Ortega: Now the pilgrimage of the Virgin of Charity is under way. I think it is paradigmatic of what the New Evangelization must be, as it is succeeding in a real public missionary course, with thousands of people who gather in the countryside, in cities, in Havana, which will be the culmination of this pilgrimage.

The number of people is extraordinary, as well as the profound attitude of faith, totally religious and of a Catholic matrix. As the Virgin passes through the streets, men kneel down on the pavement, people take out their cell phones and photograph the Virgin, they bless themselves and applaud spontaneously and cheer. There is a real spirit of Catholic piety in the heart of the Cuban, which is now manifested with a great inner liberation of all those sentiments.

ZENIT: In other words, faith has gown?

Cardinal Ortega: A journalist asked us a few days ago in Havana if Cubans’ faith has grown, because athletes thank God when they win a competition, they make the sign of the cross before beginning a sports event. In reality, it isn’t that it has grown but that it is now manifested, and perhaps this is where religious liberty has grown. A manifestation that at other times was considered as improper of the age in which we live. Something like what is happening today with European secularism. It will have other ways of being addressed but it also needs this liberation of that European secularism that makes people inhibited when it comes to the sacred.

ZENIT: And in the Jubilee Year of the Virgin of Charity of Cobre?

Cardinal Ortega: Now the bishops are announcing the Jubilee Year. Next year will be the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the image of the Virgin of Charity in the north of Cuba. And we have said in our letter that there is a springtime of faith. Spring is a good expression, because there is a flowering when, in the coldness of winter, flowers bloom, when spring arrives. What is a young shoot opens up, which is the germination of something that is sown.

[Translation by ZENIT] [Part 2 of this interview will be published Friday]
Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry


Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a donation