“Down with Communism” Protester in Cuba Still Detained

One of the most heart-wrenching scenes from the pope’s time in Cuba earlier this week was the protestor who dared to jump the barricades and shout “down with communism” as the Mass in Santiago de Cuba was ready to begin. The way in which he was treated as he was taken away by authorities – including being physically attacked by a man wearing a Red Cross t-shirt – broke my heart. Word from Cuba is that he’s still being detained.

HAVANA (AP) – A leading Cuban dissident has identified the mystery man who yelled anti-government slogans just before a Mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI this week before being hustled away by security agents.

Jose Daniel Ferrer told The Associated Press that the protester’s name is Andres Carrion Alvarez, and identified him as a 38-year-old resident of the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba. Ferrer said the man was still in custody Friday.

The protester shouted “Down with the Revolution! Down with the dictatorship!” near journalists at the Mass at Santiago’s crowded Revolution Plaza on Monday. Video of the incident showed him being hit by an apparent first-aid worker wearing a white T-shirt with a large red cross, before they were separated. Security agents quickly took him away.

Ferrer is the leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba opposition group in Santiago. He says Carrion approached another member of the group in recent weeks and expressed interest in their activism.

“We were able to identify him this morning,” Ferrer said, adding that two of his colleagues were trying to contact Carrion’s family. Ferrer said Carrion was being held at the Versalles police station in the city. It was not clear if he had been charged with any crime.

The government has had no comment, but a spokesperson for Benedict said the pontiff was aware of the incident and concerned about the man’s welfare.

“There was contact made to be informed about the person and his situation,” the Rev. Federico Lombardi told journalists before the pope’s departure Wednesday. “The interest was there and was manifested.”

Benedict met with Cuban President Raul Castro and his brother Fidel during the three-day trip. He denounced the country’s Marxist system as outmoded ahead of his arrival, and used homilies and speeches to urge greater freedom. He also criticized the 50-year-old U.S. economic embargo, which he said had caused unnecessary suffering.

The Santiago protester’s identity had been a mystery to leading members of the island’s small dissident community, with some taking to Twitter to try to find out more about him.

Elizardo Sanchez, who monitors human rights on the island and acts as a de facto spokesman for the opposition, said he had no idea who the man was. Cuba considers all the dissidents to be mercenaries paid by Washington to stir up trouble.

Damas de Blanco Leader Speaks

Interesting (and inspirational) comments by Damas de Blanco leader Berta Soler yesterday. Here are a few translated snippets:

“Independent of the pope’s mention of freedom, his mention of reconciliation, his mention of peace, he came to Cuba for a rapprochement between the Catholic Church and the Cuban government.”

” We know that the pope was going to mention the lifting of the embargo but he forgot to get together with his flock, the marginalized, the oppressed. We know the pope isn’t a liberator, what Cuba needs is freedom and freedom depends on the people of Cuba.”

“The pope did not dedicated one minute – one minute – to listen to his flock, but this doesn’t mean that the Ladies in White are going to lose their faith in God, in Christ, because really the pope represents Christ here on Earth, but he’s human and we will continue to love and have faith in God”.

- Berta Soler considers Cardinal Jaime Ortega, who knows the Damas personally, to be the one on which a visit from the pope depended on. She is sure that if Cardinal Ortega would have communicated with the pope their desire to meet with him for one minute, the pope would have accepted.

- Soler indicated that the pope doesn’t have his back turned to the reality in Cuba but is not aware of the whole truth based on Cardinal Ortega’s statements that the Ladies in White aren’t the same and that there are no political prisoners in Cuba. “Actually, the cardinal is the one turning his back on the reality in Cuba when he’s the one who is knowledgeable about what is happening.”

Plain Truth >> Angry Denunciations

As I still try to make sense of the pope’s visit to Cuba and its effects on the island, a comment by long-time blogger and blogroll member Dean Esmay at Babalu Blog clearly expresses the sentiments I attempted to portray in my long post last night as well as in comments left at Babalu Blog. Dean’s comments to Dr. Carlos Eire’s solid and thoughtful post bears repeating here in its entirety.

If you’re in a hurry and want the reader’s-digest version, here’s the last sentence which summarizes the reason the pope’s visit was still important and worthwhile even if he didn’t meet with dissidents:

Allowing plain truth to be spoken, quietly but firmly, is more revolutionary for Cubans in Cuba than any angry denunciation could be.

I could bold the entire comment for emphasis, but this last line is something we should write down on a sticky note and place on our foreheads, bathroom mirrors, car dashboards and PC monitors at work and home because truer words have never been expressed.

Bravo, Dean.

I am afraid I cannot agree with you on this. There is more here than you would appear to think.

If you look at the Vatican’s policies over the last few years, the last few decades, the last century or two at least, one thing is fairly consistent: they almost always avoid criticizing specific political leaders.

A friend of mine I’m chatting with now about this makes a potent observation: “[A]s memory serves, didn’t John Paul II help to bring down Communism without having preached against it when he held mass in Communist Poland?” I believe that more than that, he never once criticized the Soviet Union, or Communism by name, or any Polish or Soviet leader. He merely stood for the values the Church itself stands for: freedom of conscience and the rights of all individuals, and freedom in Christ. Those rights just happen to run smack up against Communist ideology and won’t budge before them.

You wished Benedict to criticize Castro in particular? He would not, any more than the Bishops in America would deny Teddy Kenedy a Catholic funeral despite is lifetime pro-abortion stance. Remember, there is no sin that is unforgivable in Catholic theology, no one beyond redemption–not even Fidel or Raul. That may not be a popular view here, but it -is- Catholic teaching.

“Hate the sin, not the sinner” isn’t just a slogan.

Furthermore, the scriptures are very clear that Christians are to obey those set in government authority above them, even if they are pagan or otherwise unbelieving governing authorities–except when those authorities demand they do things that go directly against Christian teaching. But even then to resist with humility, and nonviolently, whenever possible.

Here I quote Benedict in his homily to the Cubans, whose quiet words are, in their simple truth, a devastating rebuke to the Castro regime that needs no underscoring:

—[snip]—

In today’s first reading [from Deuteronomy], the three young men persecuted by the Babylonian king preferred to face death by fire rather than betray their conscience and their faith. They experienced the strength to “give thanks, glorify and praise God” in the conviction that the Lord of the universe and of history would not abandon them to death and annihilation. Truly, God never abandons his children, he never forgets them. He is above us and is able to save us by his power. At the same time, he is near to his people, and through his Son Jesus Christ he has wished to make his dwelling place among us in.

“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (Jn 8:31). In this text from today’s Gospel, Jesus reveals himself as the Son of God the Father, the Saviour, the one who alone can show us the truth and give genuine freedom. His teaching provokes resistance and disquiet among his hearers, and he accuses them of seeking to kill him, alluding to the supreme sacrifice of the Cross, already imminent. Even so, he exhorts them to believe, to keep his word, so as to know the truth which redeems and dignifies.

The truth is a desire of the human person, the search for which always supposes the exercise of authentic freedom. Many, however, prefer shortcuts, trying to avoid this task. Some, like Pontius Pilate, ironically question the possibility of even knowing what truth is (cf. Jn 18:38), proclaiming that man is incapable of knowing it or denying that there exists a truth valid for all. This attitude, as in the case of skepticism and relativism, changes hearts, making them cold, wavering, distant from others and closed. They, like the Roman governor, wash their hands and let the water of history drain away without taking a stand.

On the other hand, there are those who wrongly interpret this search for the truth, leading them to irrationality and fanaticism; they close themselves up in “their truth”, and try to impose it on others. These are like the blind scribes who, upon seeing Jesus beaten and bloody, cry out furiously, “Crucify him!” (cf. Jn 19:6). Anyone who acts irrationally cannot become a disciple of Jesus. Faith and reason are necessary and complementary in the pursuit of truth. God created man with an innate vocation to the truth and he gave him reason for this purpose. Certainly, it is not irrationality but rather the yearning for truth which the Christian faith promotes. Each human being has to seek the truth and to choose it when he or she finds it, even at the risk of embracing sacrifices.

The Church lives to make others sharers in the one thing she possesses, which is none other than Christ, our hope of glory (cf. Col 1:27). To carry out this duty, she must count on basic religious freedom, which consists in her being able to proclaim and to celebrate her faith also in public, bringing to others the message of love, reconciliation and peace which Jesus brought to the world. It must be said with joy that in Cuba steps have been taken to enable the Church to carry out her essential mission of expressing her faith openly and publicly. Nonetheless, this must continue forwards, and I wish to encourage the country’s Government authorities to strengthen what has already been achieved and advance along this path of genuine service to the true good of Cuban society as a whole.

—[snip]—

There is no need to “read between the lines” to find a “hidden message.” It is there in plain sight. Christians in Cuba, despite their persecution, are not abandoned by God, and all must and should acknowledge basic human freedom. These teachings are not compatible with the Castro regime, and if people are allowed to embrace them, and to say them aloud without fear, the regime cannot stand much longer.

In the way of humility, meekness, an nonviolence that are the default requirement for all Christians except in the most extraordinary circumstances, the Pope delivered a quiet and devastating blow to the regime, and the more the regime allows things like this to be said openly, the more it weakens itself.

If you were looking for a Pope to spout angry denunciations, you’re in the wrong Church. Not only would he have not been invited in the first place, but likely Christians there would be persecuted all the more anyway.

Allowing plain truth to be spoken, quietly but firmly, is more revolutionary for Cubans in Cuba than any angry denunciation could be.

 

Vatican: Too Many Dissident Groups to Meet With

In the wake of Pope Benedict’s trip to Cuba, the Vatican said that a meeting between the pope and dissidents in Cuba was not possible (note: article is in Spanish) because it had to respect the orders of the hosts (the Cuban regime) and because there are many dissident groups which had sent multiple letters and requests to the Holy See.

The first reason I alluded to in my lengthy post below this one. The second one I hadn’t heard before. At the surface, it smells bad. BS, you might call it. If the first reason was the main one, then stick with it and don’t bring up any other excuses. If there indeed was an opening, an opportunity to meet with dissidents, pick one or two groups and that’s it. You can’t please everybody.

Which brings me to this point: Assuming there was a real opportunity (which is doubtful), there might be a small kernel of validity in the Vatican’s comment that there are many dissident groups and the diverse nature of these groups limited the ability to meet with any one of them. My interpretation of this is that the Vatican received many letters and messages from different groups exhibiting a wide range of requests and even agendas.  It’s no big secret that the dissident movement in Cuba is splintered. Some of the groups don’t like each other very much and rivalries exist. Sad, but true. My hunch is that the Vatican sensed this in the wide range of messages and requests they received and feared causing further division within the dissident ranks.

The article does mention Pope Benedict’s awareness of the concerns of the dissidents and the people of Cuba in his public speeches, which I believe were expressed properly.

Take this for what it’s worth (probably not much). It doesn’t quell my disappointment but it does raise some important questions about the challenges the dissident movement face beyond those of government oppression.

You know, that idea about social media in Cuba breaking down the walls of Marxism sounds better and better each minute. Imagine what the dissident movement could do if it had social media access within Cuba to help spread its main, unifying message to the rest of the country.

Thoughts on Pope’s Visit to Cuba and Breaking the Chains

It’s tough being a Christian.

As I write this, Pope Benedict is on an Alitalia plane en route to Italy after his visit to Mexico and Cuba. Many thoughts, conflicting thoughts, are going through my mind as I look back on the pope’s visit to Cuba. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the “whats and whys” of the trip. Here are my thoughts:

Although diplomatic protocol indicates that Pope Benedict, like his predecessor, was expected to meet with the leaders of Cuba, I’m deeply disappointed that the Pope didn’t also meet with the Damas de Blanco or any other dissidents.   My hopes prior to the visit were just that, hopes. Back in February I posted that the pope not meeting with dissidents would represent a “critical setback” to the efforts to bring about true freedom in Cuba. It feels that way today, but I can’t deny the fact that there are many things out of the control of the pope in a country such as Cuba where the rulers have no real interest in promoting any real notion of fairness and freedom and who denied dissidents’ access to the Masses, let alone to the pontiff himself.  There’s also a diplomatic component to these visits that, although I would like to ignore for the sake of idealism, has to be recognized and dealt with.

Nevertheless, it’s still disappointing, even if we take to heart the affirmations of the Vatican nuncio in Cuba that the pope is well-aware of the concerns of dissidents in Cuba.

I can choose to declare the pontiff’s trip to be a total waste, just as others have done today. I can also choose to think that by the pope not meeting with dissidents and by sharing a stage and an audience with the Cuban regime’s leaders, he tacitly approves of the latter’s actions.

These are cynical and incomplete thoughts, however. Thoughts that aren’t fully grounded in truth.  His statements, homilies and public prayers contained language not generous in the least to the regime. The contrast between his mere presence in Cuba and the totalitarian regime couldn’t be more evident. This contrast – a light shining in the darkness, so to speak, exemplifies Christianity. That fact alone is what the Church has always strived to do in its pastoral mission of spreading the Gospel in all corners of the world, to saints and sinners alike.

Still, it’s tough being a Christian because it’s so hard to understand why we have to “love your enemies”. One of the Sermon on the Mount preachings, it’s possibly the hardest of Jesus’ teachings as well as one of the most misunderstood.

And the real kicker is that it’s the key that unlocks Christianity, IMO.

It’s only in the context of agape love that I can even begin to understand and accept all this. Otherwise, I’d be totally lost.

Fortunately, great Christian men and women throughout the ages have understood it and explained it to the masses. For example, Martin Luther King, Jr. in a speech delivered in Montgomery, Alabama in 1957, described the meaning of agape:

…Love is not this sentimental something that we talk about. It’s not merely an emotional something. Love is creative, understanding goodwill for all men. It is the refusal to defeat any individual. When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power, you seek only to defeat evil systems. Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system, you love, but you seek to defeat the system.

…When you rise to love on this level, you begin to love men, not because they are likeable, but because God loves them. You look at every man, and you love him because you know God loves him. And he might be the worst person you’ve ever seen.

And this is what Jesus means, I think, in this very passage when he says, “Love your enemy.” And it’s significant that he does not say, “Like your enemy.” Like is a sentimental something, an affectionate something. There are a lot of people that I find it difficult to like. I don’t like what they do to me. I don’t like what they say about me and other people. I don’t like their attitudes. I don’t like some of the things they’re doing. I don’t like them. But Jesus says love them. And love is greater than like. Love is understanding, redemptive goodwill for all men, so that you love everybody, because God loves them.

Later on in the speech, Dr. King said this:

…Men must see that force begets force, hate begets hate, toughness begets toughness. And it is all a descending spiral, ultimately ending in destruction for all and everybody. Somebody must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate and the chain of evil in the universe. And you do that by love.

The day Cuba becomes free, it will be because of the Damas de Blanco and the other brave dissidents, as well as faithful Christians such as Blessed John Paul II and, yes, Pope Benedict XVI and others who chose to break those chains of hate despite their human imperfections.

Did I mention being a Christian is tough?

I made a comment in a post at Babalu Blog today that if Jesus wouldn’t have associated with and counseled sinners, people despised by the righteous Pharisees of the day; if He wouldn’t have forgiven his persecutors on the Cross, we wouldn’t be having discussions on the rights and wrongs of the pope’s visit to Cuba. Because there would be no Christianity to discuss.

“They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Mark 2:17).

No matter how impossibly tough “love your enemies” can be to accomplish, deep down in our hearts we understand this concept, only because we are in need of this love as well. It’s not selective or arbitrary.

The bottom line: is there anything to pin our hopes on that can come out of the pope’s visit to Cuba? If Blessed John Paul II helped to open up some spaces for the Church in Cuba, no matter how flawed and weak its hierarchy is, in a country where not even Christmas was a national holiday, then his visit in 1998 had to be considered a success.

Pope Benedict followed the same formula this time around. He played it safe, so to speak. Is that a bad thing? Well, if brave dissidents can hold on to their faith despite their constant setbacks at the hands of the regime and Cardinal Jaime Ortega, it shows once again that the Church is more than a pope visiting your country. Yes, the pope is supposed to be an important and inspiring figure, the Vicar of Christ. But the Church isn’t just the pope or the cardinals or the bishops. The Church is all the faithful, the Body of Christ. I say, keep on “opening those spaces” until the chains break. The spark that finally sets Cuba ablaze with the promises of freedom is in each of the faithful.

My prayers continue to be with the Pope and that his message resonates with the Cuban people and with the rest of us.

Pope Benedict’s Homily in Havana

Excerpts from Pope Benedict’s homily in Havana this morning (emphasis mine):

“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (Jn 8:31). In this text from today’s Gospel, Jesus reveals himself as the Son of God the Father, the Saviour, the one who alone can show us the truth and give genuine freedom. His teaching provokes resistance and disquiet among his hearers, and he accuses them of seeking to kill him, alluding to the supreme sacrifice of the Cross, already imminent. Even so, he exhorts them to believe, to keep his word, so as to know the truth which redeems and dignifies.

The truth is a desire of the human person, the search for which always supposes the exercise of authentic freedom. Many, however, prefer shortcuts, trying to avoid this task. Some, like Pontius Pilate, ironically question the possibility of even knowing what truth is (cf. Jn 18:38), proclaiming that man is incapable of knowing it or denying that there exists a truth valid for all. This attitude, as in the case of skepticism and relativism, changes hearts, making them cold, wavering, distant from others and closed. They, like the Roman governor, wash their hands and let the water of history drain away without taking a stand.

On the other hand, there are those who wrongly interpret this search for the truth, leading them to irrationality and fanaticism; they close themselves up in “their truth”, and try to impose it on others. These are like the blind scribes who, upon seeing Jesus beaten and bloody, cry out furiously, “Crucify him!” (cf. Jn 19:6). Anyone who acts irrationally cannot become a disciple of Jesus. Faith and reason are necessary and complementary in the pursuit of truth. God created man with an innate vocation to the truth and he gave him reason for this purpose. Certainly, it is not irrationality but rather the yearning for truth which the Christian faith promotes. Each human being has to seek the truth and to choose it when he or she finds it, even at the risk of embracing sacrifices.

…the truth which stands above humanity is an unavoidable condition for attaining freedom, since in it we discover the foundation of an ethics on which all can converge and which contains clear and precise indications concerning life and death, duties and rights, marriage, family and society, in short, regarding the inviolable dignity of the human person. This ethical patrimony can bring together different cultures, peoples and religions, authorities and citizens, citizens among themselves, and believers in Christ and non-believers.

A shining example of (a commitment to religious freedom) was the outstanding priest Félix Varela, educator and teacher, an illustrious son of this city of Havana, who has taken his place in Cuban history as the first one who taught his people how to think. Father Varela offers us a path to a true social transformation: to form virtuous men and women in order to forge a worthy and free nation, for this transformation depends on man’s spiritual life, in as much as “there is no authentic fatherland without virtue” (Letters to Elpidio, Letter 6, Madrid 1836, 220). Cuba and the world need change, but this will occur only if each one is in a position to seek the truth and chooses the way of love, sowing reconciliation and fraternity.

My thoughts on the papal visit to Cuba are forthcoming. Stay tuned.

Archbishop Wenski Denounces Marxism in Havana

As we await the Pope’s Mass this morning in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución, here’s the closing of Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski’s homily at Havana Cathedral yesterday evening:

Ideological materialism, represented in this country and in those countries of what was the Eastern bloc, denied man’s transcendence; it denied that human person was created for more than just to die one day. As the Pope observed on his flight to Mexico, Marxism is a spent ideology. This caused a bit of a furor among the press corps; however, as Archbishop Dionisio Garcia observed, “the Pope’s comments about Marxism didn’t tell us anything we, in Cuba, didn’t already know.”

However, as Cuba transitions, the Pope and the Church want a transition that is worthy of the Cubans’ aspirations, a transition worthy of man. To go from the ideological materialism of Marxism to a practical materialism such as that of many Western societies would not be worthy of man. The Church certainly wants a “soft landing” but a landing that is open to a future of hope. As the Holy Father wrote in Spe Salvi, a world without God is a world without hope, a world without a future. To people intoxicated with the love of power, the Church witnesses to hope by sharing with the world – and with the Cuban people – the power of love.

Pope Benedict Prays, Cuban Regime Responds

Pope Benedict told reporters what he offered in prayer to Our Lady of Charity (Caridad del Cobre) this morning:

I have entrusted to the Mother of God the future of (Cuba), advancing along the ways of renewal and hope, for the greater good of all Cubans…I have also prayed to the Virgin for the needs of those who suffer, of those who are deprived of freedom, those who are separated from their loved ones or who are undergoing times of difficulty.

The Cuban regime’s response to the Pope’s prayer:

in Cuba there will not be political reform

Just another day in Cuba.

Pope’s Welcome to Cuba

This tweet by friend and fellow blogger Jorge Costales pretty much describes my thoughts in watching Raul Castro deliver his remarks at the Pope’s arrival ceremony yesterday:

“Pope being lectured by thug – welcome to Cuba.”

Soul-Searching in Wake of Trayvon Martin Tragedy

A few days ago, President Obama asked Americans to do some “soul-searching to figure out how the Trayvon Martin shooting incident could have happened”.  Well, that’s what I’ve been doing and here are some thoughts:

The entire incident was a mistake, a miscalculation and a series of bad decisions gone awfully wrong. George Zimmerman isn’t a racist. I don’t believe he shot Trayvon Martin because he was black and wearing a hoodie. He seems to be a man who took it upon himself to be the protector of a neighborhood maligned by a spate of crime, someone with a history of being on the obsessive, paranoid side when it comes to protecting his neighborhood. Not a good combination. Zimmerman could have – should have – avoided the situation had he only done what the 911 operator told him. Instead, he had to play police officer/hero in a situation where there was nothing to be a hero about. Witnesses say there was a physical altercation, Zimmerman appeared to be on the losing end and made his last, fatal mistake. Nevertheless, he appears to be reasonably well-liked and certainly not someone who would kill another human being in cold blood.

While I believe the Sanford PD made an error in not arresting Zimmerman, I’m not ready to accuse the police department for attempting to cover this whole thing up or even for giving a non-black guy the benefit of the doubt in a shooting involving a black person. Let’s remember that not all the facts have come out yet. We must have faith in the system, that justice will eventually be served and that’s all anyone should desire out of this case.

As we as a society soul-search, what are we searching for? A scapegoat?

An easy excuse? OK, how about this one: Zimmerman shot Martin because he saw a tall black kid walking around on a rainy night in a hoodie looking around and assumed he was just another criminal thug just like the “rest of them”.

Bingo. Case closed. At least that’s the message we seem to be getting from some high-profile individuals and many in the media.

Too much of what I’ve seen the past several days from these people has been finger-pointing and blame. Blame directed at our laws. Accusations of racism, hate…all those ugly words and uglier thoughts thrown out in the open. Presumptions and prejudices surfacing up to fill the void of the unknown and the fears in our minds. Those among us who use every possible opportunity to stoke the fires of fear and racism in the hearts of normal, decent, hard-working people, especially children. No one, not Al Sharpton, not Jesse Jackson, not Louis Farakhan and his ridiculous and offensive $10,000 bounty offer, knows what was in George Zimmerman’s heart when he made those tragic decisions last month. Nothing we’ve seen and heard suggests that Zimmerman’s actions were motivated purely by race and hate, but a lot of talk and a lot of the demonstrations suggest a belief that they were.

All of us, regardless of race or background, want justice to be served in this and every other case. No one wants this event to ever happen again. A 17-year-old boy died. Not just a 17-year-old black boy.

The Trayvon Martin shooting is a tragedy because a 17-year-old boy was shot and killed for no apparent reason. It’s a tragedy because George Zimmerman’s life is haunted forever for committing the biggest mistake of his life. It’s a tragedy because two lives and the lives of their families and friends changed forever. It’s a tragedy because words of hate and division are once again clouding our minds.

That’s what I’m finding in my soul. I feel bad that once again we have to point out, when we shouldn’t have to, that this has nothing to do  with race or ideology or anything else like it.

What I feel for those who prey on people’s susceptibilities and fear for personal and political gain…I can’t even begin to describe with words.

P.S. – Bernie Goldberg has an excellent article up on his website. He almost precisely describes my feelings.

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