MIAMI, Florida, JULY 29, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Despite few resources and lots of obstacles, Caritas-Cuba has attracted an army of 12,000 volunteers to help the Caribbean nation.
The work of the Cuban Church´s aid agency runs the gamut from providing coffee get-togethers for the elderly, a helping hand for single mothers, and compassionate care for AIDS patients. Down syndrome children receive lessons, peasants are organized to improve production, and prisoners´ families are given assistance.
Five Caritas members explained their group´s work in the latest issue of La Voz Católica, a publication of the Archdiocese of Miami.
“What they have done in 10 years of existence is incredible,” said Thomas Garofalo, a representative of the U.S. bishops´ Catholic Relief Services. “There is no Church with so much strength as the one I´ve seen in Cuba during my three-year visit.”
Maritza Sánchez, president of Caritas-Cuba, described the early years of the organization, when the Communist bloc collapsed in 1991, and an economic crisis followed as the Soviets withdrew their subsidies to Cuba.
In order to receive the assistance of sister churches, the Church in Cuba established a national office in Havana, and offices in each diocese. Caritas is the only independent aid organization in Cuba allowed by the government.
Aside from parishes, the Church does not operate its own institutions, such as hospitals or schools. Neither does it have its own means of transport, so that any foreign aid arriving at a Cuban port must be channeled through government structures.
The Church has not remained outside the decision-making process, however. A Church-state commission decides on the points of distribution. When the donor mentions Caritas, “we guarantee that the aid will reach the place established by the donor,” Sánchez said.
The Church in Cuba can also receive funds from sister churches through Caritas-Miami or other dioceses, for specific projects. “This is a matter between the churches, and the government does not interfere,” Sánchez said.
Today, Cuba sees limited aid. Until two years ago, Caritas received between $3 million and $4 million in medicines. Now, “Cuba is no longer a priority for the world,” Sánchez lamented.
This is why the Church is emphasizing development projects, training and voluntary commitment.
“We will always be seen in a bad light, but the Lord´s work cannot stop,” said Carlos Pulido, director of Caritas in the Cienfuegos Diocese.
In his diocese, families have opened their homes to the elderly, and 3,600 are given afternoon coffee, with milk that is donated, in part, by farmers.
The work requires discretion, Pulido said, because the government does not understand the Church´s mission. “It believes that what is done for love of neighbor is an act of opposition,” he observed.
The lesson for Fidel Castro, in Caritas´ 10 years on the island, is that “we have learned that it is possible to do something starting with little,” Pulido said. “People must be taught not to blame the state structure but to discover the interior strength of the human person.”
Deacon Leonel Pérez, director of Caritas in the Havana Archdiocese, added: “As Church, we belong to Christ, and Christ did not come to confront the power of Rome; he came to heal the sick and the lepers, and give sight to the blind. This is our role.”