Cuba, Reconciliation, Faith and Works

Staying on the topic of the Pope’s March visit to Cuba, the Herald’s Ana Veciana-Suarez shifts the focus from dissidents in Cuba to Cuban-Americans in Miami who are planning to travel to Cuba for the Pope’s visit.

The article’s profile of several people reveals that the driving desire behind their pilgrimage is the hope for unity and reconciliation and the belief that through faith and hope, everything is possible.

Ralph Gazitua, has led the prison ministry for the Archdiocese of Miami for more than two decades and sees some similarities between his work in those institutions and efforts to spread the gospel in Cuba. “I’ve seen amazing things happen through the force of prayer,” says Gazitua, who has visited the Vatican several times. “Our message as a group of pilgrims should be clear. Through strong faith, everything is possible.

I couldn’t agree more. Another thing that struck me about this article and in other stories involving the Catholic Church in Cuba is that there is a focus (at least from this side of the Straits) on Cuban-Americans opening up to Cubans on the island, putting all the hurt behind them and seeking reconciliation. Again, I agree.

What’s often missing or obscured from this message, however, is that reconciliation is a two-way street. Also and most importantly, reconciliation can only come after an honest and sincere admission of wrong-doing and a professed commitment to correct those wrongs. For us on this side, it means putting the hurt and enmity behind us and reach out to our brothers and sisters in Cuba.

What does it mean for those on the island, especially those who have either directly or indirectly caused so much pain?

Unfortunately, Ms. Veciana-Suarez’s profile of the pilgrims doesn’t address this part of the question. Perhaps they don’t want to reveal their true feelings in public, especially to a journalist. Understandable. But I’m afraid what we might be seeing is a timidity in approach, one that has all the right intentions but doesn’t want to risk ruffling the feathers that need to be ruffled.

The following section involving Carlos Saladrigas, one of the pilgrims, best reflects this supposed timidity:

…the sight of enthusiastic throngs greeting Pope John Paul 14 years ago proved to be an eye-opening experience for some exiles — those who were there to witness it and those who refused to go but watched from Miami.

Businessman Carlos Saladrigas was one of them. He spearheaded the opposition to the church-sponsored cruise in 1998. But “after I saw the images on television and I heard what was being said, it was clear to me that I had made a mistake. I realized I wanted to be there,” he says.

Those powerful images got him thinking — and talking. He spoke at length with Father Jose Conrado Rodriguez, an outspoken priest from a parish in Santiago de Cuba. Father Rodriguez is best known for the 2009 open letter he sent Raul Castro condemning the restrictions on freedoms and the harassment of his parishioners. “He convinced me it was necessary to seek a neutral process,” Saladrigas said — a process the Catholic church could facilitate.

Saladrigas and wife Olga, practicing Catholics who met as teenagers teaching catechism classes in Miami, will be in Cuba for Benedict’s visit. He defends the church’s position against those who claim that a religious institution should not play into Castro’s hands. “The church is doing what it always does,” he adds. “It provides moral guidance (emphasis mine). It spreads the gospel. This is about evangelization, about hope.”

If the church’s “moral guidance” doesn’t include defending the basic human rights of all; if it doesn’t make clear that those in power in Cuba are wrong; if we are going to meekly accept that the church should cave in to the authority of man despite all injustices, then how in the world can true reconciliation take place?  Either we believe that the regime is justified in denying basic human rights or we demand that the regime do their part in the process.
The following passage in the Letter of St. James (one of my favorite letters of the Bible) may not be totally applicable but expresses the need to put faith into action:
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

St. James’ words of wisdom are lived daily by those in Cuba who literally fight for their lives every day in the name of freedom. People like Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet and the Ladies in White, to name but a few. It would be easy for them to accept their fate and only strive to  “keep warm and well fed”. But faith demands more from them and from all of us.

I can think of no better message of hope and love that the pilgrims can deliver than to make it clear to our brothers and sisters on the island, without fear and with full confidence in the grace of God, that they speak for all the people of God in support their God-given right to live in freedom, the same freedom they enjoy in their country of exile and adoption.  Yes, we need faith and hope. But we need to turn it into concrete actions of love, including those that may cause us to suffer. On a daily basis, Cuba’s brave dissidents show us this by example.

I hope and pray that when these people hit the ground in Cuba, the pain and suffering they will surely see will remind them that true reconciliation will never take place until good and decent people have the courage and the faith to stand up and demand that all of us be treated with the dignity and love we were created in.

Full article follows.

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