Cuban Church Enters New Era

Auxiliary Bishop Alfredo Petit-Vergel on What’s on the Horizon For the Island-Nation Following the Reestablishment of Diplomatic Relations with the US

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Bishop Alfredo Petit-Vergel is auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Havana, Cuba. A priest since 1961, he has served as both a parish priest and seminary professor. He was named a bishop by Saint John Paul II in 1991. He spoke by phone with international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need March 25, 2015.

Q. What will be the benefits of diplomatic relations with the US—and hence the possibiltiy of trade as well as cultural and social exchange between the two nations—for the Cuban people as a whole and the Catholic Church in particular?

Bishop Petit: Let us hope that the future will bring peace and normality to the relations between the two nations. The members of the Catholic Church in Cuba, as in every other place in the world, are part of the Cuban people. The Catholic Church does not look for special privileges in Cuban society. The Catholic Church in Cuba, as in every other country of the world, looks only for the space to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Q. What do you say to those who argue (vehemently) that lifting the embargo gives a victory to a regime that still denies fundamental (especially political) freedoms to its people?

That is a poor consideration of the Cuban reality as a whole. Let us wait for future events to see who is right.

Q. The Cuban Catholic Church has enjoyed a measure of freedom in recent decades but has seen its share of suffering under Fidel Castro. What have been the biggest hardships for the Church in the past 50-plus years?

Among other obstacles, there has been the lack of priests and pastoral workers. The government has always controlled the number of priests in the country—and it is never enough to do the pastoral work. That number has always been capped at 400 in a country of 11 million people. The other difficulty for the Church has been gaining access to the media.

Q. Does the government have oversight or control over any of the Church’s initiatives?

Not at the present time.

Q. What does the Cuban Catholic Church contribute to Cuban society as a whole?

The Church helps bring a transcendent and Christian dimension to everyday life by preaching the moral values of the Gospel.

Q. What are the Church’s biggest needs at the moment?

First of all we need prayers. Then, we must find ways to address the lack of priests and pastoral workers. Also, there is a need for economic support so that we can supply medicines and food to the very poorest people and we need the means to fulfill all our pastoral duties and attend to the spiritual needs of the faithful.

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Joop Koopman

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