March 12, 1996
The Catholic Church in Cuba recently celebrated its Second National Ecclesial Encuentro, with very positive and promising results.
The passing of time, since our First Encuentro took place ten years ago, has allowed us to corroborate the value of the sign and richness of content of that meeting. The assembly’s final document is still thoroughly valid, both in its pastoral focus as well as in regard to the relationship between faith and culture and the Church’s presence and action in the midst of the Cuban nation, of which it is a part.
The dialogue, called for in that First Ecclesial Encuentro, continues to be the aspiration of the Church in Cuba both in its relationship with the State and also, in the relationship of all Cubans among themselves, whether they are non-Christians or believers in God or whether they are within or outside the country.
This Second Encuentro assumed as valid all which had been expressed in the Encuentro of 1986 in regard to this dialogue. This call for a mature, respectful, and responsible interrelationship is implicit within the very same priorities selected by the assembly; above all, in the one that proposes “a project of human solidarity which reconciles every person with all the rest in the core of our people,” and which is based on “a project of proclamation of the message and person of Christ that reconciles men with God.”
The notion of dialogue is then reassumed by the Second National Ecclesial Encuentro with a special connotation of the term reconciliation. This word means more than just a calling together to dialogue, since those who respond to this call must overcome not only prejudices or mere estrangements, but wounds—some of them very deep—which have marked our national history in diverse ways and also the personal and family life of many of our brothers and sisters.
As Cuban bishops we are well acquainted with the inspiring power of the Christian faith to accept and walk the rugged path of reconciliation, but we also see how, among some Christians, there is a rejection—many times an explicit rejection in full contradiction of the very Gospel and of the best Christian tradition—of any reconciliatory proposal for our peoples. We find this rejection—sometimes a radical one—not so strange to believe when it comes from those who do not profess our faith. Nonetheless, we find among some of the latter, genuine attitudes and even gestures, which tend to promote reconciliation. This is truly inspiring to us and our efforts.
When the Church in Cuba proposes, within its prophetic mission, to assist in the promotion of the Cuban as a person, within his/her own milieu, calling for a reconciliation, then it is making a decisive option at this time of our history and in order to build the immediate and long-term future of our country.
We are aware of the singularity of our posture by the very fact that we are supported by one of the most difficult demands of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, “You have heard that they were told, ‘You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for your persecutors” (Mt 5:43-44). However, we are persuaded to believe that these are the feelings of the Church in Cuba, of the priests, deacons, religious men and women, Catholic laity, and of large portions of our population just as it has been expressed in the Second National Ecclesial Encuentro and as stipulated by the Episcopal Commission on Justice and Peace.
Therefore, as a Church, we want to fix our eyes on two painful events that have weighed on each and every one of the participants of the Second Encuentro: the non-authorization of the meeting proposed by the different political thought groups integrated in the Cuban Council, and the subsequent detention and/or imprisonment of many of them and the shooting down of two small planes from the United States. This last action is even more deplorable because it caused the death of four of the airplanes’ occupants.
We do not pretend to make a juridical or political analysis of this sad incident, but from a Christian and human sense, we believe that, even if the repeated aerial incursions were imprudent and could have exacerbated some moods, the response was excessive and violent and had crushing effects on those who believe in moderation as a viable solution to the crisis and, in the case of our Church in Cuba, in reconciliation among all Cubans, including those living abroad.
The sorrow over what has happened along with the thwarted Cuban Council meeting and its participants does not originate from any political consideration, but from our preoccupation as pastors of the Church. We do not cease to propose agreement and dialogue as the path to reconciliation for our peoples. The common good of the nation is achieved with the participation of all. The contribution of diverse ideas and initiatives constitute a richness and an acknowledged right of all citizens.
In this painful journey towards a genuine reconciliation, which the Catholic Church wishes and promotes among all Cubans, these two incidents constitute a new and difficult obstacle to overcome. Intolerant postures is what seem to emerge triumphant during situations such as these, be it in Cuba, or in the United States of America, including Cubans who live in this country or in other places. Words such as provocation, total blockade, forceful responses, and all the old vocabulary of the “cold war,” return to common usage.
For this reason, in these very tense moments, we, the Bishops of Cuba, through Cardinal Jaime Ortega, President of our Conference, make a call for moderation and prudence. During a remembrance ceremony on the high seas, in memory of those pilots who tragically disappeared, all of those involved used their good judgment. Could it be that we could achieve equanimity only when we are confronted with a catastrophe or are afflicted by great pain? There are many things we could have achieved before, avoiding much suffering, if only good sense had taken precedence?
But, if as a consequence of this very painful incident, confrontation and the logic of increasing violence triumphs, and the already U.S. approved Helms Burton law increases the wall around Cuba with other measures that directly or indirectly affect our peoples, this would mean taking away any probability of finding peaceful means for the reconciliation of all Cubans. In this way, the forces of peace will be defeated. For this reason, and for the risk of increasing the suffering of the Cuban peoples, the bishops of Cuba reiterate our rejection of the reappearance of any economic measures against our country. We also call those who have the highest of responsibilities within the Government of Cuba and within the United States not to abandon alternative measures to rigidity or violence and, in this sense, we also address our Cuban brothers and sisters who live abroad.
For this we know that, if we do not coincide exactly in our respective policies, we could be misunderstood by those who have the power of decision or influence. The Church cannot align herself with government policies or streams of opinion when it is a matter of living according to the truth and in complete fidelity to the mission that Jesus Christ has entrusted her: to be the leaven of unity and peace in the world. If we consider the suffering of our people, and we take into account the Christian solidarity of the Catholic Church in Latin America, the Caribbean, Canada, and the United States, and especially, our total communion with Pope John Paul II, whose teachings have always enlightened us, we are certain that we are not alone when we speak about the Gospel message of love.
We ask the community of the Latin American nations, Canada and the countries of the European Union to contribute with their efforts so that deliberation and equilibrium could open a path for a relationship based on justice, respect and peace. There also should be a common action that avoids new tragedies, calls to prudence and makes possible just paths of reconciliation for all Cuban people. Favoring the path of reconciliation, with the active participation of all those involved and interested, both within and outside of our country, seems to us to be the only possible chance for the future of the Cuban nation.
We pray to God, through the intercession of the Virgen María de la Caridad, that she disposes the hearts of all those who hear our call so that it taken in its right sense, as a plea for harmony and peace for the Cuban people.