"An Effort to Take
History Out of Its Inertia"
HAVANA, 14 NOV. 2003 (ZENIT)
Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino, archbishop of Havana,
assessed the 25 years of John Paul II's pontificate by describing it as "a
colossal effort to take history out of its present inertia."
In this interview with Spanish Radio-Television, the Cuban cardinal also
analyzes the repercussions of John Paul II's visit to Cuba.
Q: Eminence, could you give an assessment of John Paul II's papacy?
Cardinal Ortega: It is not possible in a few minutes to refer to John Paul
II's extraordinary pontificate, the best-known Pope in history, the most
seen, the one who has gone around the world in over 100 trips to different
countries, whose messages, encyclicals, homilies and addresses fill dozens
and dozens of books; a Pope of profound thought, of great heart, a man of
prayer who at the same time engages in untiring activity, overcoming the
obstacles of illness, of physical pain, and of the sorrows he bears as
universal Father because of the evils that afflict the men and women of
Pope John Paul II will go down in history as a fighter, as a firm and
courageous witness of Jesus Christ during a period when the world has
fallen prey to false ideologies. This confusion arose primarily from the
frustration and suspicion of the long period of the Cold War that has
resulted in calculated indifference in the new generations.
John Paul II has not ceased to proclaim to the world the Gospel of Jesus
Christ. He has not ceased to confront the wall of indifference to the
hunger and malnutrition of so many human beings, to address the
devastating action of poverty, drought, AIDS, especially in Africa.
He has not ceased to awaken the consciences of the contented on earth to a
solidarity with the dispossessed worldwide. Popes have always talked on a
world scale, but John Paul II has done so to a world in the process of
globalization, technically intercommunicated, but lacking in vital, human,
John Paul II's pontificate is a colossal effort to take history out of its
Q: What contribution has John Paul II made to the social doctrine of the
Cardinal Ortega: Let's begin by saying that a lexicon has been published
of the social doctrine of John Paul II; because not only in his great
encyclicals, such as "Centesimus Annus" or "Sollicitudo Rei Socialis," but
in many addresses, homilies and different talks of the Pope, there are
constant references to different aspects of the social doctrine of the
The world is used to hearing a language on man and society that focuses on
individual rights, on freedom and democracy with little or no reference
made to the just distribution of wealth or social care of citizens. Yet,
great emphasis is placed on sharing the goods of the earth and on
attaining widespread social justice. However, in practice, the
individual's human rights are forfeited and an authoritarian state carries
out its social program.
The social doctrine of the Church is integrating, and its projection can
be summarized in words taken from Pope John Paul II's homily in Revolution
Square in Havana on January 25, 1998: "For many political and economic
systems prevailing today, the greatest challenge continues to be to be
able to combine freedom with social justice, freedom with solidarity, so
as not to relegate any one of these to an inferior plane. In this
connection, the social doctrine of the Church aspires to illuminate and
conciliate relations between the inalienable rights of every man and
social needs, so that the person will attain his most profound aspirations
and integral fulfillment."
Q: What has been his role in the post-Cold War historical processes?
Cardinal Ortega: With the end of the Cold War, the world has tended to
stagnate. There are those who speak of the end of history.
Pope John Paul II has invigorated the period of transition between the end
of a millennium and the beginning of another through the latent energies
in the Gospel. He calls Christians to a new evangelization of the world
and invites all peoples to open their doors to Jesus Christ.
In the post-Cold War historical processes in Eastern Europe, in Cuba, and
in every other part of the world, the Pope has not ceased to propose
dialogue as the way to solve conflicts, even when this calls for
reconciliation and forgiveness. And, in face of the great economic
challenges that have repercussions on the social life of peoples, the Pope
urges a solidarity that takes the weakest into account.
Q: What is your assessment of John Paul II's  visit to Cuba?
Cardinal Ortega: It was one of the most anticipated visits by the Pope and
the world, and one of the most followed by the media. Focused in a
political way by many, it was perceived by some as the meeting between
John Paul II and Fidel Castro, and by others as the presence in a country
of the former Communist orbit, of the most outstanding representative of
the values of the Christian faith. Political expectations arose among
It was a long-awaited pastoral visit both by the Pope and by Cuban
Catholics, a meeting of the universal Pastor with that part of the flock
that lives in Cuba, and so the Pope came, he confirmed the bishops in
their mission, he met with families and young people, with the sick and
with the world of culture, and he left a trail of light and hope in Cuban
Catholics and in our nation in general, so that the Church received a new
and lasting impetus in its mission.
As these were our expectations, they were amply fulfilled. Expectations of
a political kind, however, not being well founded, were frustrated.
Q: What problems will John Paul II leave pending to his successor?
Cardinal Ortega: Every period will have its problems and what today is
seen as such, tomorrow is modified by different circumstances. The next
Pope will also have the grace of God to address the problems he encounters
or those which are generated in his time; but these cannot be described
today, as each problem depends on the time in which it develops.
Q: John Paul II has been the most visible Pope. He has stretched the
boundaries of the Church to the ends of the world. But his moral doctrine
has been contested or ignored in the West. Is the Catholic Church being
perceived as an exacting Church in the moral order and, consequently, as a
Church of minorities?
Cardinal Ortega: Let's not forget that the Pope's moral doctrine includes
above all the service of love to one's neighbor, the struggle against
personal or group egoism, and the constant call to solidarity. Christian
morality is challenging also in these aspects. Let us not reduce morality
to its sexual aspects, to the marital relationship.
Our world is not wicked; it doesn't reject some moral doctrines because it
has made a choice for evil or corruption; rather, it is a frail world, the
men and women of today have submerged themselves in a multiple sensorial
reality that entices them.
Faced with statistical or psychological interpretations of what is right
or acceptable, there is a loss of the sense of what is true. We are before
a human being who is apparently well informed, but with very little
One cannot be silent in face of this crisis. The truth must be proposed
over and over, even if it seems that few accept it, even if they reject,
to a greater or lesser extent, the obligations it entails.
There have always been few who accept fully Jesus' message and its
obligations in social, political, family and personal life.
The Church has always acted like the man who throws a stone in stagnant
waters and produces a movement of concentric circles which unfold from a
focal point to the periphery. The smaller circles closer to the place of
impact receive it more fully, but there is an influence that reaches to
The Pope knows this, he acts like this, and the Church will continue to
act like this too. It is the style of Jesus' parables: the grain of
mustard that produces a great bush, the handful of leaven that ferments
the dough. Jesus' message is always one of impact on minorities and of
Q: Wojtyla has changed the figure of the Pope. What qualities must his
Cardinal Ortega: Those proper to his priestly personality, his
spirituality, his way of being a pastor. No one will be able to imitate
Pope John Paul II, and no one will attempt it.
The brilliant papacy of Pius XII seemed irreplaceable and John XXIII gave
his pontificate his own stamp of simplicity and affection. John Paul II's
successor will be very different from him, but I am sure that he will
always be the man that God wills for that particular time in the history
of the Church and of humanity.
[Transcription issued by "Ecclesia in Habana"; adapted slightly here]