Its people and its Church
facing the beginning of the third millenium

Work material that was used for a meeting of the priests of the diocese of Santiago de Cuba, Holguín, Bayamo-Manzanillo and Guantánamo.


During the days before the visit of the Pope to Cuba, everyone expected something. The Church, larger spaces within which to carry out its mission; the prisoners, freedom; housewives, to be able to obtain more food; the people, that their problems be resolved. But it was also suspected that those enormous expectations would not be satisfied by the Papal visit. Now, a year and a half after this historical papal visit to Cuba, we can definitely ask ourselves: Where are we and what did we achieve with the visit of the Pope to our country? We intend to answer these questions with the following reflections.

Suggestions and constructive criticism from the Pope

All the expectations generated, both the "objective" and the fantastic, found their echo and incarnation in a phrase which for many synthesized and summarized the message of His Holiness to Cuba and to the Cubans: "Cuba should open itself to the world, and the world should open to Cuba" (1). The phrase was insightful, as it referred to the double blockade suffered by the Cuban people: the internal, imposed by the communist system, and the external, synthesized in the commercial embargo by the United State to the Island. To those who only affirm the importance of the first, the Cuban problem can be resolved through internal change, with the evolution, transformation or dissolution of the present system. To those who blame everything on the external blockade, its lifting (a decision which depends on a foreign government) would solve the extremely difficult present situation of the nation.

A dispassionate and objective look is sufficient to discover that our problems are of such caliber that they involve decisions that are internal and external, personal and collective, both inside and outside Cuba. The Pope cast this look and synthesized the situation in this double opening: from Cuba to the world and from the world to Cuba.

Another "main-idea" of the Holy Father was that we Cubans should be the protagonists of our own history (2). This exhortation to the protagonism of the people encompasses a double criticism: on one hand of the paternalism which makes us expect everything "from above", and on the other, the immobility that leads us to expect solutions "from outside", to stand idly by while expecting others to solve our problems. The solution will come from within and from inside: it must come from our people and from their hearts; otherwise, it will not be a solution. Many years ago, at the onset of the first confrontations between the Church and the emerging socialist state, Mons. Pérez Serantes said: "Rome or Moscow" to deny that Cuba's future depended on Washington and Moscow. As the old Latin proverb states: "Roma locuta, causa finita"…Rome, the Pope, almost forty years later, has said that the future is in our hands and depends on us. Now then, we should ask: What has prevented and still prevents us from taking the reins of our life and our history into our own hands? To answer these questions we should analyze, even if only briefly, the phenomenon of totalitarianism in which we have been immersed, in one way or another, for the past forty years.

The situation, which has characterized the development of the socio-economic and cultural evolution of Cuba during the past forty years, can be synthesized in one word: totalitarianism. The Cuban communists did not invent the totalitarian state; they simply adapted their Marxist-Leninist version and benefited from the extensive experience available. In confronting the United States, the neighboring superpower in the Cold War, the only door that remained open to the Cuban government was a strategic alliance with the block opposing the United States: the Eastern block headed by the Soviet Union. In this fashion, the existence and survival of the Cuban project was inevitably linked to the so-called "real socialism" and to its methodology.

Totalitarianism permanently adopts and applies the forms of reaction typically used in warfare. The "habit of violence, the simplicity of extreme passions, the submission of the individual and the collective" ensure a maximum feeling of solidarity brought about by a shared fear; induced egalitarianism; unity without fissures; and the need of action directed and controlled by the one in charge. The totalitarian society exhibits a rare mix of paternalism and ferocity. It has been said that "this cult to violence, as a means as well as an end, makes totalitarianism a close cousin of political 'gangsterism', with its acute perception of opportunity."

If the womb from which totalitarianism has emerged is war and violence, the pursued objective is that of the destruction and of the total reconstruction of a society of masses based on ideological postulates, operating through mechanisms of organization and control which utilize the most modern artifacts of science and technology. But the ideology is not a simple method of thinking, or a philosophical structure made purely of ideas. It is an instrument of action which mobilizes the historic forces towards one goal: the establishment of absolute political power in the hands of a sole party which reigns over "a united people who shall never be defeated." From this, we can characterize the system based on the following elements:

  • The objective of creating a new society and a new man comes from a millennial ideology that mobilizes the entire population to action.
  • A sole party of the masses, hierarchically structured, and simultaneously directed by an absolute dictator, directs this action.
  • A system of physical or psychological terror, exercised by the party, but which also supervises the party through a sophisticated system of security and vigilance which utilizes modern methods of control (informational and electronic), and especially, scientific psychology and the constant study of the population's morale/emotional state and opinion.
  • The control of information through mass media allows for the creation of a "virtual reality" which has very little or nothing at all to do with reality and which allows the belief that one is living in the best of worlds...or at least, that "other worlds are even worse."
  • The absolute control of the armaments and the army, as well as a centrally planned economy, enable those in government to exert the maximum control over people's lives.

We thus face a situation of such an absolute control over the souls and bodies of men and of the simultaneous capacity to plan and control the individuals and the society, which is perhaps unprecedented by any monarch or government. Radio and television also carry out indirect and sophisticated control that "programs" the consciousness from within and is barely perceived by the programmed individuals. All this provides the totalitarian system with a diabolical efficacy in the domination of people.

The syndrome of learned helplessness or "nothing can be done"

It is convenient to analyze the consequences on human beings of a continuous and prolonged exposure to the politics of the totalitarian system. We will call it the "syndrome of learned helplessness" or "induced hopelessness." As a starting point, we have the experiments by American psychologist Martin Seligman. Dr. Seligman researched the behavior of two groups of dogs, one subjected to a disturbing and highly anguishing situation, without any possibility of escaping it: the animals in this experiment, regardless of what they did, received electrical charges and could not leave the cages in which they were locked. The other group, subjected to a similar situation, could, by activating certain mechanisms, escape from this place of torture. After several attempts, they were able to free themselves.

When both groups of animals were subjected to a new situation which had the possibility of escape for both groups, those of the first group resigned themselves to their fate, without even trying to find an escape from their situation, even though it was available to them. In contrast to the first group, those of the second group were able to find the new door to escape from their place of torture.

The investigations of Professor Seligman have been applied to human psychology and to psycho-sociology. The results have been very fruitful when applied to the totalitarian reality. It is presented as a situation without any way out, which, if it is assumed as such, becomes a paradigmatic case of helplessness. In this same way, the propaganda generated by the regime is aimed at convincing us that change is impossible, or that change will end in chaos: that is, that there is no possible solution to the present situation.

A phrase by journalist Soledad Cruz incontrovertibly expresses these ideas: "There is no one who can overthrow this, but there is also no one who can fix it." This idea is reinforced using old proverbs such as (translated from Spanish): "a known evil is better than an unknown good", and other similar ones. The most perfect state of helplessness is the one that implies the renunciation to the mere attempt to achieve change. In order to create this attitude, all cards are used, such as: terror, fear of failure, discouragement, lack of confidence in oneself and in others, and all forms of division and suspicion. Its most extreme expression is when they are able to convince us that "people are not worth the effort", that they are unworthy of our sacrifice. This is how the omnipotence of the State feeds the impotence of its citizens.

But these ideas, attitudes and situations that form a state of helplessness only succeed if they are believed by those who suffer them. When the helplessness syndrome appears in human beings, it is maintained by ideas, attitudes and experiences which are repeated. They are most dangerous when they appear unconditioned and are applied in the most impersonal and aseptic manner.

As we saw in the case of the animals subjected to a prolonged state of helplessness, they will respond with inaction. Helplessness operates to dissuade the imagination and creativity of its victims. A change in the situation is not followed by a change in habits, but rather, by the maintenance of the same mechanisms of response, which had already been acquired. The syndrome of learned helplessness is the key mechanism to explain the apathy of people in a totalitarian or a post-totalitarian state. The system itself has functioned like a giant mechanism that generates helplessness through the control of: the different spheres of life (political-administrative, economic, and socio-cultural); information and of the centers of ideological formation or education; and, the mechanisms of vigilance, pressure and repression. It is aimed at transmitting to the people the sensation that nothing escapes the absolute power of the State and its representatives. All this has the objective of imposing upon us the syndrome of helplessness.

Joan Manuel Serrat says in "Pueblo Blanco": "Awake, tender people, this land is sick, and do not expect tomorrow what it did not give you yesterday. Leave your mule, your woman and your raiment, and follow the path of the Hebrew people. Search for another moon; perhaps tomorrow fortune will smile; and, if you have to cry, it is better to weep facing the sea. If I could join the flight of pigeons and abandoning hills leave my people behind, I swear to you by what I was, that I would leave this place; but the dead are in captivity and will not let us leave the cemetery."

To live in truth: a door to emerge from helplessness

"Truth will set you free"--John 9,32

They married us to falsehood and they forced us to live in it. That is why it seems that our world sinks when we hear the truth. As if it would not be worth it that the world would sink rather than to live in falsehood.-- José Martí

What the totalitarian system both fears and runs away from the most is the simple truth. The system cannot stand the critical spirit that questions those incontrovertible truths pronounced from the throne of absolute power. The totalitarian regime operates as an immense generator of virtual reality, but it only functions for those who decide or at least passively accept to live within it. Those who decide to live in truth and do not collaborate with the conventionalities that sustain the system, become an example for others and a danger to the system. Vaclav Havel has analyzed this reality using the example of the shopkeeper who places a political slogan in his vegetable stand ("true democracy only exists in socialism"). Neither he nor his customers believe the slogan; very probably, they will not even read it.

The purpose of the sign is not to express what the shopkeeper thinks, but to send a message of loyalty to the system. The real message says: "I, Juan, the storekeeper, stay out of trouble and therefore obey by placing this sign. The only thing I ask in exchange is to be left in peace." If we were to translate in real terms the situation of the shopkeeper we would give him a sign that reads: "I have fear and therefore I obey without making any noises." But the shopkeeper would refuse it; he would be ashamed to show in a window, at the public view, such an explicit declaration of his degradation. This is how the ideology functions: it covers up the truth with "elevated" words and serve as an alibi for the controlling power as well as for the man who humiliates himself before this power.

The distance that exists between words and life represents and reveals the distance that separates the abject initiative of a false life, which is expressed through lies, and an honest life, lived in truth. Unmasking falsehood becomes the first mission of the man who wants to be loyal to himself and who wants to live in truth. On the contrary, by believing the lie, or behaving as though he believed it, he becomes a supporter of the regime and prolongs it. This is what is called "accepting the rules of the game." Man does not decide his own life. On the contrary, life, ritualized through ideology, receives man's loyalty and is imposed on him as his irrevocable destiny. By obeying the ideology, man signs the death sentence of his own liberty and that of others. He becomes an accomplice to the slavery of his brothers. Man can only again find his identity and repressed dignity through an act of liberty and defiance. When a man decides to "live in the truth", he demonstrates that this type of life is possible and embarrasses those who continue to live a lie. He questions the prevailing power and becomes the greatest threat to the pretended omnipotence of this power. We find the greatest confirmation of this in the historical downfall of the post-totalitarian communist world in 1989: this structure of power, up until that point apparently monolithic, fell like a deck of cards, during a few days, and, except for the experience in Romania, in a peaceful manner, without anyone defending the "ancient regime."

This gaining of conscience that we have spoken about is not a political act, but a moral one. The totalitarian system, which has taken over all aspects of life--the civil society, the economy, culture, and even family life and the most intimate personal dimension--classifies as "political" all action heading towards "living in the truth." All actions aimed at enabling people to recover their responsibility and to exercise their capacity to decide are a direct threat to the system, and provoke an angry and violent reaction on the part of the authorities.

In addition to the ritualized ideology, which serves as a justification for the system by creating a virtual reality that hides and distorts the "real reality", the system has its most firm support in fear. This becomes the key to the ultimate acceptance of the "virtual reality." As we can clearly observe, fear functions to dissuade any action toward assuming one's own responsibility: jail, easily imposed in a legal system that initiates processes based on the "presumption" of guilt, can have such a high price that no prudent man would want to pay. The increase of the police forces, and its increasing threatening character, serve to dissuade a population which is increasingly becoming more "expressive" of its true feelings and thoughts. On the other hand, there is the "easy outlet" offered by immigration: an individual solution to which very few are willing to renounce, "ornamented" with the justification of being able to help the family who stays behind. From the social point of view, the solution of immigration functions as a "placebo", an efficient tranquilizer, as it offers the hope that the lottery can make it possible anytime.

On the other hand, one does not have to be a specialist in economics to discover that the present chapter of the life of the nation increasingly depends more on immediate revenues to survive. There is no effort, not even an intent, to achieve a long term development with a vision of the future. Life is lived one day at a time; this is true for the citizens as well as for the State. The nation's infrastructures are destroyed; this is not prevented by any restorations or substitutions. The liberalizing measures which would enable a rapid agricultural, industrial and business recovery are not taken by the government as it fears that these will lead first to the loss of economic control and later to the loss of political control. That is why we see that each step forward in individual initiatives in agriculture, commerce, and business is always followed by one step backward.

A similar situation exists in fields, which were traditionally represented as the unquestionable successes of the Revolution: education and health. In a recent article, Ignacio Sotelo stated that he had noted that in Cuba, where everyone had learned to read, the number of functional analphabets was constantly increasing: no one reads…because there is nothing to read, it is out of the reach of people, or there is no time or no desire. The same can be said about health: illnesses due to shortages are on the increase. The physical and psychological deterioration of the people is too visible to necessitate illustrating it with examples or statistics; it has acquired incontrovertible dimensions…it is sufficient to open one's eyes and observe.

All in all, the situation is so chaotic that the government has been forced to "open its hand." As Jorge Domínguez has stated: the regime continues to maintain its totalitarian will, but it is unable to exert it like before, hence the unavoidable loss of control and the repressive measures of the recent months (the laws of January and the increase in the number of and in the incentives offered to the police forces). In Cuba, the totalitarian regime gave way to a post-totalitarian regime in the seventies. (The totalitarian regime is based on the absolute control of the situation and the mobilization of the masses to seek the active support of the system. The post-totalitarian system attempts to maintain control by the state not by mobilizing, but by paralyzing the masses, thus avoiding the growth of the emerging civil society.) Today, there is discussion as to whether the post-totalitarian Cuban regime is headed toward an authoritarian regime with the characteristics of a sultanate. What remains indisputable is that totalitarianism will be maintained by the regime in the midst of changes, sometimes imperceptible and slow, but real, which are taking place in the country.

A year and a half ago, the path that the Church offered, as expressed by the Pope, was based on an internal and external opening; the initiation of a national dialogue; a call to personal responsibility; and the respect to the principle of subsidiary. This search for the common good was expressed in Martí's formula of "with all and for the good of all." The response has been to recrudesce the weakened and obsolete mechanisms of totalitarian control, which generate helplessness and dissuade the people from accepting their responsibility as individuals and as citizens. Based on what we have said, it is now convenient to analyze what should be the response of the Church in this situation.

The Church at the crossroads of the present and the future

Forty years ago, at the beginning of the communist experience in the nation, the Church raised its voice and faced the new reality. Totalitarianism in Cuba started with the aura of a heroic struggle for liberty and justice, through a popular mobilization without precedent in the history of the country. The gradually progressive implementation of communism in the revolution, through a very accelerated process, resulted in the taking of absolute power. The revolutionary power, invested with a kind of redeeming authority, swept away with the existing institutions and the entire republican past: with its good and its mistakes. The consequence was "a year zero": that of an absolute power that controlled all spheres of life.

The confrontation of the Church, which denounced the communist presence in the revolution and its turn to the radical left, resulted in the dismantling of the Church, its means of action, and its institutions. Perhaps there was an error in the calculation of the "strength" of the Church that during the first fifty years had been able to grow in numbers, presence and prestige in the national life, as expressed by Mons. Meurice in his welcoming speech to the Pope. The short and intense period of confrontation was accompanied by a "policy" of leaving the nation, both involuntarily and voluntarily. Certain priests asked the faithful to leave Cuba, and some priests, alerted by their superiors, or on their own initiative, started to abandon the country. Nevertheless, there are exceptions at the level of laypersons, religious orders, and priests. Those who did not leave were forced to leave by the government, thus leaving the Church in a state of survival.

When the Church started to reconstruct its forces and to reinitiate its work, it was faced with a reality which was not only hostile, but which dominated the entire spectrum of the socio-economic, cultural and political life of the nation: a government which took all the initiatives and left no loose ends in its eagerness to control the lives of the people. The Church followed the same destiny of all institutions that were not born with the revolution or of those that were already in its hands: a dying and cystic existence, separated from the social life, which we experienced for years and years with a small group of the faithful, who were as frightened as they were heroic. The same happened to the Protestant Churches and fraternal associations.

During these forty years, when the situation became especially difficult due to the so-called "internal contradictions within the system", the solution provided by the government was to "open the door" so that those "not in agreement" could leave the country. With each exodus, the Church experienced the reduction of its members and the destruction of its slow and tenacious pastoral work. It was a tantalizing torture that has given our mission a peculiar provisional quality: we have had to improvise each time, with both plans and people…because people were leaving. Even under these circumstances, the Church exhorted the faithful to stay, to remain committed to their country and their people. On the other side there were many factors: the reunion with the family, a peaceful life, the hope for liberty, and the expectations of prosperity. The phenomenon of the exodus and the existence of a community of more than two million Cubans who live permanently outside the country have become one of the key problems of national life; it weighs on the present and the future of Cuba. It is a fact which cannot be ignored, and which should not be forgotten: it implies too many people and too many aspects for us not to take it into account.

As we know, in 1980 the Church initiated a process of internal renovation with the Ecclesiastic Reflection (Reflexión Eclesial-REC). This process, with culminated with the Cuban National Ecclesiastic Encounter (Encuentro Eclesial Nacional Cubano-ENEC), is characterized by the search of our identity and our historical and existential vocation in light of the Gospel and at the service of our people. The REC established the dialogue as a fundamental element of our being and our function as a Church. It was as part of a process, that coincided with the great changes in the Soviet Union and the countries of Eastern Europe (the perestroika and glasnost), during which the Church proposed, clearly and from its own experience, a dialogue as the most adequate and efficient way to face the problems of the country.

It is regrettable that after the ENEC the reflective aspect of REC has diminished.

Together with the process of internal renovation, the Church opened itself to a ministerial action which emerged from its own renewed evangelizing conviction. It coincided with the Mission of the Cross (Misión de la Cruz), facing the celebration of the half millennium of faith in the Latin American Continent. This stage is having its culmination with the Celebration of the Jubilee of the Third Millennium, which had its highest inflection in the visit of John Paul II to Cuba in January of 1998. The proposal to the people of the way to faith through the missions coincided with the profound crisis in worldwide communism, with the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the disappearance of the block of socialists countries, which had profound and varied repercussions in Cuba, on its people and on the government.

In view of the crisis generated by the fall of Marxism in Europe and the deeply critical situation of the nation, all the People of God, through the Final Document of the ENEC, and the Bishops, as pastors of the Church, on repeated occasions and directly to the government, proposed a "National Dialogue." This dialogue, while respecting the differences and interests of all parts, including the Cubans in exile, would have advanced daring solutions, extensive and efficient enough to mobilize the moral and material forces of the nation. It meant giving each other a vote of confidence and from that point "setting sail into the future." The Cuban communists, facing the grave alternative of "preserving power or saving the fatherland", opted for the first. They reinforced the totalitarian behavior of living in falsehood and maintaining the paralyzing schemes of helplessness that we have already analyzed, despite the fact that they knew that this path was a dead end, as was demonstrated by the experience of their old partners of the communist block. It was then than the bishops, after a long and reflective wait, decided to publish their Letter "Love hopes for all things" (El amor todo lo espera). The welcoming of this letter by the Cuban people marked a change in the recent history of the country. A considerable number of the people saw in the words of the bishops a reflection of their hopes, their anguishes, and their problems. The roads for a possible solution were encompassed by that wise and brave letter, which genially combined prudence and audacity.

The government gave "deaf ears" to the clamor of the people prophetically expressed by the bishops. The Church continued its efforts to achieve a peaceful and negotiated solution to the situation, without excluding anyone. For many, the gravest difficulty in carrying out this proposal is not only the lack of willingness on the part of the government and the party to enter into a dialogue, but also the nonexistence in the nation of an organized counterpart: the civil society, social movement or political groups who can assume the role of counterpart, and valid participants in a dialogue from the State, which maintains itself typically totalitarian (or post-totalitarian). The official position maintains this thesis, highlighting the weakness of the dissidence, its infiltration by all the elements of national security, and its dependence on foreign assistance for its survival.

The dissidence, eminently peaceful, lacks the recognition and firm support on the part of the (Church) hierarchy; at least, that is our perception. The maximum effort to unblock the Cuban reality was carried out by the Church with the visit of the Pope to Cuba in January of 1998. The mobilization of the people, its impact at the level of the nation, cities, neighborhoods and hearts is unprecedented in the history of our Church. The people supported the Church, listened to the Holy Father and vibrated with the evangelical message that he transmitted during those days. No one, either inside or outside Cuba, denies the success of this Papal visit. The question that we have been asking ourselves from the start continues to be valid: What has happened after?

The Five Sores of my Church

Over 150 years ago, Father Antonio Rosmini, an Italian priest, published a polemic book entitled "The Five Sores of the Church." We have borrowed this title from Father Rosmini to refer to situations that we will classify as "sores of the Church." Nevertheless, the sense of the term does not correspond exactly to that used by Father Rosmini. We will talk about these sores and will refer to them in a very particular sense: if you will, like the wounds of Jesus, which were also the "signs" that the resurrected could show to "confirm" that is was Him. The sores are like challenges which our Church has, because they link it with its past and its passion, and they become the sources of its compromise and the reason for its action.

The new and the old Christians

In his presentation in the XXVII Inter American Reunion of Bishops, Mons. Adolfo spoke as the old and wise pastor that he is. Among the many interesting and profound things that he said one stands out with the strength of a popular saying: we have discovered that in Cuba…neither the atheists are so atheists nor the Christians are so Christian. The challenge to faithfulness, to the serious compromise and to our living according the Gospel is there, present, and asking for our reflection and sincerity. A variance to the "no one is so so", is present in the growth in our communities and in the natural dialectic created between the new and old Christians. The Church should not disregard the "push" that the first represent and the force and weight contributed by the latter. The enthusiasm of the first and the stability and weight of the latter should be empowered by the compromise of all. This reality requires analysis, listening to each other in a sincere and frank dialogue, and wisdom on the part of responsible lay people and pastors, to ask for each other's participation. It requires not rushing to assign very responsible positions to people without the necessary time and maturity and by assuming the challenge of allowing enough time for a serious formation. Mutual appreciation is indispensable for the growth of both groups.

The foreign and Cuban clergy

The increase in the number of priests and nuns has been recognized as one of the principal fruits of the Papal visit, and, without doubt, it is. But the entry of new pastoral personnel is a challenge that should also be analyzed. The dialectic new-old, secular-non-secular, foreign-national, also exists as a logical result of these matters. This brings tensions, and also wealth, which is worth analyzing. First, it is good to remember that in the Church there are no foreigners…"neither Jews nor pagans." The recently arrived are and should be welcomed. They bring to our Church new methods, enthusiasm, energy, and imagination-very important and necessary contributions. We should neither ignore nor deny that living during 40 years in a totalitarian system "creates character." The helplessness is present in our Church in bishops, priests, religious orders, and laypersons. This is normal. When the new arrive, without noticing, we tend to transmit "our conditioning to them." This is not good, as it can paralyze initiatives and actions that are necessary and even urgent. On the other hand, a necessary amount of prudence is necessary if we do not want to lose, with the same speed with which they entered, our recently arrived brothers who are so necessary.

This requires a coordinated action of fraternal meetings (which are difficult due to the excessive workload we have). Nevertheless, we should insist on this for our mutual fraternal and pastoral enrichment. We must be very sincere with each other and coax each other in a light and loving manner, in our common devotion to the Kingdom. For those of us that have spent a lot of time here, the secular or the non-secular, unity is important, because it has been the indispensable condition for survival. But it is true that our unity should enrich itself with new forms of diversity and that even our own unity should become more dynamic. We have much to learn from each other.

On the other hand, we should apply a "healthy division of labor" to the problems of the nation. Cubans should assume a larger portion of responsibility and initiative for the mere fact of being Cuban and because we are less vulnerable to "certain administrative actions" to which the foreigners could be easier targets. Much dialogue and sincerity is required so that we can all walk together, although, logically, our styles are different. The mutual appreciation of the Lord continues to be the indispensable condition for the growth of all.

Another aspect of the theme refers to the "very new" (novísimos)-the new vocations which are emerging from our communities. It is a clear theme for the future of the Church in Cuba, because we know from experience that local Churches should be built upon a stable clergy "that has emerged from the land", that is the secular clergy. Here we should all work together, seculars and non-seculars, if we wish the serious establishment of the Church in Cuba. The theme of the vocations goes together with the theme of our seminaries and seminarians, of the young priests and the attention that our bishops and priests are giving to the youngest. We should remember that the largest incidence of abandoning the country occurs among the youngest, and that they do not bear exclusive responsibility for this…

Improvisation as a way of being and the paternalistic attitude

Improvisation and a provisional quality have become an integral part of "being national" and have "infiltrated" the Church and our pastoral planning. Without even realizing it, the wear and tear of this situation marks us. This is, up to a point, inevitable in a situation such as ours: we live in a country without future, where the every day things--understood at its lowest form--become the horizon. But precisely because of this, the Church should insist with its people on the need for seeking and identifying objectives. As a result of improvisation, weariness can dry up our strength. We then maintain the capacity to do things, but we lack the ability to think and plan that which we do. We invent at the spur of the moment, but we lose the longer-term outlook, which is also necessary. To what do we want to respond? What do we intend to achieve? What do we want to maintain or what should we change? These are questions that we should ask ourselves continuously, keeping in mind the fragility of the people we face, permeated by the "well learned helplessness", from which we do not escape either. On the other hand, the action cannot permit us to forget the "discourse", the message that we should transmit, the privileged channel that we have to reach the people: the Church, our communities. We cannot forget our ultimate objective: to build man according to God, by the model of Christ.

In this edification of man according to the model of Christ, we should consider the grave problem of paternalism, which manifests itself in the relations of our bishops with us, and of us with our laypersons, on more than a few occasions. This fear of going too far leads us to overprotect our people and restrain our prophetic compromise. We must remember that for a long time a large number of us have felt like "seminarians who celebrate Mass" and that nothing contributes more to maturing and the compromise of priests in a presbiterium or of laypersons in a community than to share the responsibility of decisions which have been discussed and arrived at by all.

The spirit of fraternity and friendship, which corresponds to the example of the Apostles, should mark our style of being pastors and the way we carry out our mission. Also, it is the best way to combat the helplessness from which the country suffers.

Building of the Church and service to the People

Sometimes we hear voices that "we should not risk everything that we have achieved so far." This affirmation reminds me of the story of Karel Capec in his book "Apócrifos". Capec writes about the psychology of Lazarus, the friend of the Lord, after he left the sepulchre: the experience of death was such that Lazarus became afraid of life, and the risk it entails. He lived a life of absolute fear, hiding away from that commitment which always entails some risk. I do not believe that anyone who is somewhat prudent would want to return to the year 1961, to the time of the confrontations. But, at the same time, we cannot renounce the call for commitment that the situation of the country presents to us. We cannot remain quiet and do nothing.

To those who oppress the people, whatever color they may be, any action on the part of the Church in favor of respecting of human rights, justice and liberty would be interpreted as "meddling in politics." Navarro Vals, in his last visit to our country, mentioned an anecdote of John Paul II, which sheds light on this matter. After visiting a concentration camp, the Pope made very strong declarations. In an interview with the press after the visit, a journalist asked the Pope if "his declarations had not been political." The Pope, who is usually very patient with "the boys of the press", at the time almost "lost his cool." "One does not rebel before this horror due to a political ideology, but due to a moral essence, due to a basic sense of humanity", responded the Pope to the journalist in an almost stern tone.

We know that the Church offers a contribution which cannot be substituted when it executes its triple ministry in the service of evangelization, worship or charity, but we cannot ignore situations of injustice, oppression or helplessness, without acting in the same manner as the priest of the Levites, referred to in the parable of the "Good Samaritan." Mons. Pedro Meurice expressed this very clearly in his speech of acceptance of the Doctorate Honoris Causa, at Georgetown University: "On the other hand, while the people suffer injustice or limitations, no matter how small, the Church should make those needs and sufferings of its people a focal point of the content of its relations with the State. On the contrary, the Church would only claim what could be considered as its institutional rights or those concerned with its internal life, but, for the followers of Christ, these demands can never be separated from the rights of the people."

When the people suffer, not "some", but so much injustice or limitation, the responsibility of the Church becomes incomparably greater. Now, if we pretend to save the institution when the people die, we are doing no more than repeating in a new context the old dilemma of the Jewish pontiff: "it is in the best interest that one person dies in order to preserve the people." Which in essence represented not so much a preoccupation for the people, but the eagerness of every well-established synagogue to defend its own interests.

The poverty in the Church and the exodus of the Christians

Mons. Adolfo spoke of the threat of a naïve sense of triumph that would prevent us from seeing reality, exactly as it is. There is no doubt that during the last few years the economic possibilities of the Church have grown thanks to the generous support that it has received from different parts of the world. We have gone from a poor Church to a Church that has, "that apportions and distributes", and that also runs the risk of being perceived as the one that "keeps the largest portion." Our life style, our houses, our cars should be perceived as being entirely at the service of the people and should be as modest as possible, while efficient enough to serve their purpose. The modesty in the means and the simplicity in the attitudes, above all in the spirit of service to the community and the people in general, are something that we must jealously guard.

The use of money is something that the bishops should consult with the priests and that the priests should consult with the communities. The maximum clarity in this point is necessary to guarantee an administrative transparency and to make all the members of this Church accept responsibility in this very delicate matter. Sometimes we get the impression that the preoccupation with material things, including the temples, leads us to forget the essential issue that should preoccupy us: build a Church totally at the service of the Kingdom of God.

Experience has taught that certain Churches that have suffered situations close to martyrdom have embarked in a search for wealth, prestige and power at the point when the situation has become more normal. This has even occurred to the same people who previously had even risked their very lives. The fact is that martyrdom does not provide character. Each generation should look for its own style of fidelity to the eternal Gospel of Christ, without adhering to past merits.

We cannot exclude from our discussion the issue of the exodus that once again threatens to empty our communities and damage our people. In the exodus we find the traditionally individualistic response that we Cubans have given to our national problems. The Church should have the courage to denounce this attitude of lack of commitment toward the fate of the people. We should also face the exodus of priests which we have so many times blamed, in a superficial manner, for reasons of a material nature, without questioning if our Church was providing sufficient motivation for the commitment of its members, clergy and laypersons. Personal commitment, a slow road to conversion, and sacrifice are necessary in order to achieve freedom from induced helplessness. A Church that is not capable of awakening this spirit of sacrifice, this militancy of martyrdom, will never be the light in the totalitarian darkness. But all is not lost…"if someone comes to offer his heart."

Finally…The dialogue

The dialogue has been the always-recurring theme in the life of our Church during the past 20 years. From the beginnings of the REC, in the early eighties, the dialogue was proposed over and over as the only way out of our situation. Recently, in his presentation before the XXVII Inter American Reunion of Bishops, in February of 1999, Mons. Adolfo insisted on this theme, and rightfully so.

However, there exists an essential contradiction in proclaiming the "National Dialogue" as the solution to the present situation of the Nation. This would imply placing responsibility for the commencement of this Dialogue in the hands of a State which has repeatedly refused to engage in any type of dialogue, not only de facto, but also invoking its legal right of refusal. To propose the dialogue then becomes a trap from which we cannot escape, due to the fact that we have never even been able to begin a dialogue. There comes a time when we must ask ourselves about the possibility and the sheer necessity of starting a national dialogue in which the civil society, at the levels in which it has already been organized (Churches, fraternal organizations, diverse autonomous groups…) can participate in a civic and not directly political manner.

In spite of his physical condition and precarious health, John Paul II had the audacity to more than meet his commitment to come to Cuba and give us the message which, in his opinion, would permit this Church and this people to retake into their own hands the reins of their own destiny. Our Church knew how to prepare for his visit with the missions, reaching the people, house by house. The people responded to the call of the Church, and the Church demonstrated a capacity to convoke that it did not even realize it had. But after the visit we did not know what else to do. We have the impression that we lacked the answer for what in effect happened: that the government took advantage of the trip for its foreign propaganda and for the internal confirmation of the status quo. To say that this is what we expected would not be truthful. Nevertheless, it was perfectly foreseeable. The sad thing is that, having been able to prevent it, we were incapable of looking for alternatives, proposing other solutions, generating processes that would have given protagonism and hope to the people. We think that the crux of this matter is to discover to whom we should address our message, the true interlocutor in this dialogue which we are proposing: the people as protagonists of their own destiny, who decide to walk with their own feet, who organize and are capable of struggling with and for the others…"with all and for the good of all." We are here in order to find together how we can achieve this. The silence of our Church in light of the new repressive legislation and the fate of the four dissidents who authored "The Fatherland Is for All", is, to say the least, cause for worry.

The message that we give of commitment and hope; action and optimism; patient struggle; and constant formation should be born from our own commitment to the fate of our people, a profound analysis of our reality, and a liberating pedagogy. Liberty is only true when it has the experience of the mystery of the incarnation and of the cross. We are all responsible. The analysis of the syndrome of learned helplessness demonstrates that it can be overcome only at the individual level by the work of each person, his assumption of responsibility, and his commitment. We must analyze the mechanisms, the messages and the attitudes that bring about helplessness. The following must be done: promote concrete actions; teach people to think and exercise their skills for critical analysis; awaken creativity; and generate processes of participation. Only then will we transcend fear and bring forward the best in each of us, the edification of the kingdom of truth, justice, peace and love, that Christ taught us in the Beatitudes (Mathew 5, 1-12 and Luke 6, 20-23), and that José Martí poetically described in his poem "White Rose."