In a message of hope addressed to all Cubans, the bishops of Cuba said “that although Cuba has changed in the last years and the present is not like the past years, a new generation of Cubans lives with the firm hope that the future be better than the present.”
The bishops’ message, “La Esperanza No Defrauda,” published Sept. 15, in this Year of Faith, has the virtue of hope as its theme. This letter comes 20 years after their pastoral letter of 1993, “Love Hopes for Everything,” in which in a similar way the bishops made an analysis of the Cuban reality and gave some insights into the renewal and change of Cuba.
Urgency in the Citizenry
The present Pastoral Letter acknowledges that some of its suggestions of two decades ago have been carried out, but others remain to be realized. It suggests that, in order for the future to be better, it is necessary that the process of reforms in Cuba be continued and quickened. Given the “urgency in the citizenry,” the Bishops believe that the urgency and the best legacy for the future generations is “in fact to work for a better present.” For this effort, they ask for commitment to a “hope that does not disappoint,” echoing the title of their message.
The contributions the Bishops make for a better future are the fruit of their commitment to proclaim the Gospel and of their observation of the “reality that we are living, on hearing and feeling in ourselves the yearnings, the hopes and the frustrations of the children of God in this land.”
To Serve without Distinction of Persons
In the new Pastoral Letter on hope and the fostering of this virtue among Cubans, the Bishops address aspects that, going beyond the strictly religious, form part of their pastoral mission. As they did 20 years ago, exhorting to live in love, the Bishops address social aspects that are part of the pastoral mission of the Church. Quoting words of John Paul II in Cuba, they affirm that the Church offers her pastoral service to persons regardless of their religion, race, age, sex, social condition or political thought.
To Foster Hope with Concrete Deeds
In the 10-page message with 43 epigraphs, the Bishops do not limit themselves to the national situation, but make proposals for Cuba in the concert of nations and its relations with the United States. Their reflection expresses concern for the family and refers to the factors that fuel the desire to emigrate, especially in young people, whom they ask that they seek the truth, fall not into the existential vacuum, and build not just a Cuba of the future but present-day Cuba.
They call for room to be made in Cuba for personal fulfillment, harmonizing any social plan with the personal and family plans of the citizens. This “makes indispensable an economic plan of defined boundaries,” they stress, with words already expressed in the Pastoral Letter of 1993.
Citizens are hearing about real freedom, which entails responsibility for one’s brother. They are being asked to take others into account, to come out of the “let him save himself who can” and the “I’m free to do what I like” mentalities.
They remind the Government about “its obligation to procure the good of all,” taking into account “the just interests of each group that makes up our society.” This is translated, they continue, by replacing definitively the paternalist State with a participatory State, without fearing “the development of a strong and responsible social autonomy, empowered from the base and according to the norms of civilized coexistence.”
To Surmount Poverty of Different Types
From their observation of the reality, the Bishops conclude that poverty of different types must be surmounted, which they see in their “constant going through parish communities and mission houses.” They speak of material poverty, “product of salaries which are not enough to support a family worthily,” as well as the poverty that affects vulnerable and helpless persons.
They point out the poverty in social groups that usually should not be enduring it: of engineers, workers of the agricultural cooperative, doctors and teachers, sportsmen and fishermen whose work brings foreign exchange to the country. They indicate that this affects the human capital that, because of the lack of opportunities, is lost because of emigration, especially in the young population.
Dialogue to Achieve a New Political Order
Hopes for a better future also include a new political order, say the Bishops, who point out that incipient areas for debate and discussion have emerged created by the citizens themselves “with serious and different opinions and proposals.” In their message, they stress that “there must be a right to diversity in regard to thought, creativity, the quest for truth” and they reiterate that “the need for dialogue arises from the diversity.”
On referring to dialogue they repeat Pope Francis’ words to the ruling class in Brazil, and affirm with him that “the only way that the life of peoples will go forward is the culture of coming together, a culture in which the whole world has something good to contribute, and all can receive something good in turn.”
Change Relations with the United States
The Bishops’ Pastoral Letter is not limited to the Cuban ambit but extends to Cuba’s situation in the concert of nations. The message states that “the necessary internal reforms, both political as well as economic, can help to insert ourselves in a dynamic and sure way in the international concert!”
The text acknowledges changes made in foreign policy towards Latin America but also advocates the need to consider changes in relations with the United States. Without naming the United States’ embargo towards the Island, they recall words of John Paul II, who, in his visit to Cuba, pointed out that “the isolation caused has indiscriminate repercussions on the population, increasing the difficulties of the weakest in basic aspects such as nutrition, health care and education,” regarded in the past as the great achievements of the Revolution.
Concern for the Family and Young People
The Bishops dedicate several paragraphs of their message to the family, which they describe as “school of humanity and transmitter of values that extol the person enabling him/her to have a healthy and constructive social life.” They deplore that 20 years after the Letter “Love Hopes for Everything,” the situation of the family has not improved. The Bishops do not think that the measures of exigency and discipline requested by the country’s authorities are not sufficient. “An educational process is urgent that fosters in all Cubans the desire to be good and the practice of virtue. And although the Church does not participate in the educational system, which is State run in its totality, the Bishops commit themselves “to continue with greater commitment in the sowing of personal, family and social values and in cultivating virtue.”
The cultivation of virtue is a call that the Bishops make especially to young people. Recalling John Paul II’s words to young people in Camaguey in 1998, they ask them “whether or not they are believers, to accept the call and to be virtuous … to be strong within, great in soul, rich in the best sentiments, courageous in truth, audacious in liberty, constant in responsibility, generous in love, invincible in hope. … Be not afraid to open your hearts to Christ,” they say.
Incipient Changes and also Resistances
In their analysis, the Bishops say that they are witnesses of some changes in the economic and social realm and, up to a certain point, in the political. They express their confidence in the continuation of the process of broader reforms for the good of the population.
However, they are also aware of the internal resistances to change, in part because of the uncertainty that changes create, and in part due to “a mentality,
or way of thinking, held by ideological factors which were prolonged in time in their origin and development, outside a changing reality, factors that, in the opinion of many, are obsolete and unviable today.
These Are Topics that Have Been Addressed over the Last 20 Years
This new Letter is not the only message of the Bishops since 1993. They wrote guidelines to prepare the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1998. (The Spirit Wishes to Blow in Cuba), and two years later, “New Heavens and a New Earth,” on the occasion of the end of the millennium.
In 2003 the Bishops deplored a certain regression and reversal, as well as a return to the language of past years, lack of hope in the people and new imprisonments. They did so on the 10th anniversary of the Letter Love Hopes for Everything, with a Pastoral Theological Instruction: The Social Presence of the Church. In 2006 they published a Theological Framework for the 2006-2012 Global Pastoral Plan, which was initiating in the whole Island. Other documents were written for the Marian Jubilee Year and Benedict XVI’s visit in 2012.
Observed on reviewing the contents is that the Bishops have maintained a continuous line in their collegiate teaching, backed by the messages of two Popes. Recurrent topics are: the invitation to dialogue and reconciliation, participation and quest for unity in the plurality of points of view and options, the need of defined economic plan that unites wills, the invitation to greater openness with room for new initiatives, the condemnation of the restrictive economic measures imposed on Cuba by other countries, the family and immigration questions, the exhortation to young people to be formed and grow in virtue, and the call to solidarity in face of the material want that specific groups of society face.
A Framework of Signs of Hope
The text begins recalling two signs of hope: the fruits of the Marian Jubilee Year in 2012, which united all Cubans under the Mother of Charity, and the visit of two Popes to Cuba: John Paul II (1998) and Benedict XVI (2012), whose messages evidenced “not only the religious dimension but also the human and social dimension of the evangelizing mission of the Church.”
Inspired in the papal messages, the Bishops address all Cubans, pointing out that the Church of Christ cannot remain enclosed in herself and satisfied with looking after those who form her.
The Cuban Bishops signed the message dated September 8, 2013, feast of the Virgin of Charity, Patroness of Cuba. On bidding the people farewell, they pray to the Virgin of Charity “to fulfill the yearnings of hope of all Cubans” and pray to her that Catholics in Cuba will be able to spread the Good News of Jesus, “sowing in our land Christian hope, supported by the certainty that God always fulfills his promise: “I will be with you always to the end of the world.”
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