Cardinal Archbishop of Havana Speaks of Faith on the Island
By H. Sergio Mora
ROME, DEC. 15, 2011 (ZENIT)
Cardinal Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino, archbishop of Havana, Cuba, was in a front row of St. Peter's basilica when Benedict XVI announced his second visit to Latin America, in particular to Mexico and Cuba.
Who better than a cardinal can understand what Benedict XVI's visit will signify?
The cardinal spoke with ZENIT about what the Holy Father will find in Cuba.
[Part 2 of this interview will be published Friday.]
ZENIT: We are nearing Christmas, which is not celebrated in Cuba. Did something change after John Paul II's visit?
Cardinal Ortega: Well yes, so many things changed after John Paul II's trip. For example, the fact that Christmas is now observed with a civil celebration and a day off when no one works. In addition, the entry of missionaries in Cuba, both civil and religious, was made easier and there was a real renewal of Catholic life, of communities. In the life of the Church in Cuba, one can see a before and an after with Pope John Paul II's visit.
ZENIT: Benedict XVI announced his trip to Cuba, but with the invitation of the state?
Cardinal Ortega: The invitation to the present Pontiff was extended at the beginning of his pontificate, and reiterated by President Raúl Castro the same day that he became the nation's president. At that moment, Cardinal Bertone was visiting Havana, and the very cordial and warm invitation was extended to come to Cuba. This is connected with John Paul II's trip, which left a new relationship and the desire to meet him again.
ZENIT: What is the situation in seminaries and with vocations?
Cardinal Ortega: They increased with the Pope's visit, especially vocations to the priestly life. The number of priests increased after John Paul II's visit. We are now 360 and were then just over 200. The life of the Church has grown. Worship in Cuba hasn't been a problem, what has been lacking are public manifestations and expression of the faith.
ZENIT: Do people appreciate public manifestations of faith?
Cardinal Ortega: Now the pilgrimage of the Virgin of Charity is under way. I think it is paradigmatic of what the New Evangelization must be, as it is succeeding in a real public missionary course, with thousands of people who gather in the countryside, in cities, in Havana, which will be the culmination of this pilgrimage.
The number of people is extraordinary, as well as the profound attitude of faith, totally religious and of a Catholic matrix. As the Virgin passes through the streets, men kneel down on the pavement, people take out their cell phones and photograph the Virgin, they bless themselves and applaud spontaneously and cheer. There is a real spirit of Catholic piety in the heart of the Cuban, which is now manifested with a great inner liberation of all those sentiments.
ZENIT: In other words, faith has gown?
Cardinal Ortega: A journalist asked us a few days ago in Havana if Cubans' faith has grown, because athletes thank God when they win a competition, they make the sign of the cross before beginning a sports event. In reality, it isn't that it has grown but that it is now manifested, and perhaps this is where religious liberty has grown. A manifestation that at other times was considered as improper of the age in which we live. Something like what is happening today with European secularism. It will have other ways of being addressed but it also needs this liberation of that European secularism that makes people inhibited when it comes to the sacred.
ZENIT: And in the Jubilee Year of the Virgin of Charity of Cobre?
Cardinal Ortega: Now the bishops are announcing the Jubilee Year. Next year will be the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the image of the Virgin of Charity in the north of Cuba. And we have said in our letter that there is a springtime of faith. Spring is a good expression, because there is a flowering when, in the coldness of winter, flowers bloom, when spring arrives. What is a young shoot opens up, which is the germination of something that is sown.
Cardinal Archbishop of Havana Speaks of Faith on the Island
By H. Sergio Mora
ROME, 16 DEC. 2011 (ZENIT)
When Benedict XVI visits Cuba this spring, he will find an island facing some of the same temptations felt around the world, but also a Church actively ministering to a people of deep and re-enlivened faith.
Cardinal Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino, archbishop of Havana, made these observations as he spoke with ZENIT about the situation in Cuba and what the Pope can expect to find there.
Part 1 of this interview was published Thursday.
ZENIT: Is there concern that consumerism might come in the future?
Cardinal Ortega: There is already a certain consumerism in Cuba. It is impossible in today's world for people not to adopt the behavior of the global society in which they live. I am amazed to see that as the Virgin passes through the streets each one can photograph her with his cell phone or a good camera.
There is consumerism to the degree that there is improvement in the economic situation, and of Cubans who receive economic aid from the United States, but it isn't unbridled consumerism as in the very rich countries. However, the tendency does exist and is always a risk. In the future that could diminish the social values that exist in Cuba. Sometimes want generates values such as solidarity, attention to the other, care of common things, everything can be affected. I think this will be inevitable but it can be accompanied or attenuated by a more active living of the faith and of Christian values and virtues.
ZENIT: In other words, the Church is not planning for a future situation that might happen?
Cardinal Ortega: It isn't in conjectures about the future that a pastoral plan can lean on, but in present action. For example, the Pope is calling for a New Evangelization. In Aparecida, he said: We must begin this New Evangelization with a great continental vision. And we began with this mission 15 months ago, which is now concluding the most active part of the course, and the most social and congregational of the entire nation, in Havana on Dec. 30.
ZENIT: What pastoral action, for example, is being developed?
Cardinal Ortega: We will begin the Jubilee Year on Epiphany with pilgrimages to the national shrine, marked by certain actions that we asked of the people. For example, during Lent the forgetting of offenses, reconciliation with different persons or human groups with whom we are estranged, with the family, the social milieu, things of this sort.
And at the end of the next year it will be the family, to tighten families bonds, to seek the most dispossessed in the family, among neighbors, to attend to them, etc.
Stages of this sort, remembering what the Virgin of Charity's passing among us has meant.
ZENIT: What do the people expect from Benedict XVI's trip?
Cardinal Ortega: The people desired John Paul II's visit as a sort of great blessing for the whole nation, for each person. Once when John Paul II went to Peru, he said — speaking somewhat sympathetically as he used to do sometimes — "I think that in Latin America there is an eighth sacrament which is blessing." We have now experienced it incredibly; our right arm is tired from so much blessing; there are thousands of people.
When the Pope gives people that blessing, it brings them spiritual peace, they feel themselves to be in God's hands, which is what people seek most. What do they want the Virgin to bring them? Peace, they answer, and that word means many things.
ZENIT: In other words, they want the Pope's blessing?
Cardinal Ortega: Also in the context of this great pilgrimage, which has served as preparation for the Pope's visit, people hope that his presence will be a great culmination of the same, a supernatural continuation of the Virgin's visit, and that God is sending him for this. Sometimes we are impressed by the people's faith, what men of any age, young people, women and adults. What the people expect from us and from the faith is that we take them to an encounter with the sacred, that we give them an opening to the infinite, to the eternal, which will take them out of the situation in which life envelops them with work, daily chores, or concern about the future and their children.
ZENIT: Even though practical or ideological atheists exist?
Cardinal Ortega: I was recalling what Pope Benedict XVI said recently, perhaps on the occasion of one of the meetings that with great acuity has been called "The Courtyard of the Gentiles," which I find fabulous. And he said that it is necessary that there be men who are seekers of God and also a phrase like "preferable is a serious seeker of God than someone who says yes, that there is a God, but who lives in an indifferent and cold way as if He didn't exist."
I think that in our people, that search for the sacred, for the absolute, perhaps the silence about God, not God's silence, of which the philosophers and theologians speak, the not mentioning of Him, avoiding phrases such as God willing, etc., all this causes a curious reaction.
ZENIT: A boomerang effect?
Cardinal Ortega: As when the man of the house has died who had great weight and influence, and no one wants to mention him. And all of a sudden that absence makes the deceased person more present. While in mourning, sorrow and tears one can even smile remembering the jokes the person told. Instead, the absence that does not allow his being mentioned, is as if there were a call that in the silence speaks of God.
I hope that Western societies afflicted by that emptiness, which we sometimes feel in Cuba, that through that emptiness, which can take some time to be felt, the people will go beyond old anti-clericalism, superficial things that capture their attention, unduly at times, or painful scandals which aren't the essence of our faith. Then one will be able to go to the essential. And the human being finds himself when he finds God.
[Translation by ZENIT]