A Still-Present Past
A COMPASS FOR PILGRIMS TO CUBA, PART I
María López Vigil
It is said that after Pope John Paul II visits Cuba, he will only have one great project left on his agenda, the greatest of all; cross the threshold of the millennium and enter the year 2000 at the head of the Catholic flock. But Cuba awaits him first, the only Latin American country whose soil he has not yet kissed. In April, nine months before his visit, seven thousand international journalists were already planning to cover the event. And the first rumors were already running through Havana: "Popular Power's going to give away paint for everyone to paint their houses so the Pope will see everything like new," I heard in some neighborhoods. Other rumors were even more ambitious: "When the Pope comes the blockade will be lifted!"
Within Cuba, this trip has generated many expectations and the many ways to read it are oriented in all directions. A one-dimensional simplistic view prevails outside of Cuba, especially in Miami, as is habit by now: the Pope's visit either signals his criticizable support for Fidel, or he is coming to give the regime its final push over the edge. There is almost no other consideration in the middle or to any side.
In the plazas of Santa Clara, Camagüey, Santiago de Cuba and Havana, thousands and thousands of Cubans, all of whom have been protagonists in a complex, unique history full of ups and downs, will go see and listen to John Paul II. Since the paths that have taken them to those plazas are not identical, not all are expecting the same thing from him. And in the global plaza into which our world has been converted by television, millions of non-Cubans will accompany the Pope from his home to the island.
What religiosity will John Paul II find in Cuba? And what will the Cuban soul find in John Paul II? Using historical data, we have constructed an initial pilgrims' compass to orient our perspective.
*A Mixed People with a Mixed ReligionWhen the revolution triumphed in 1959, 95% of Cubans were revolutionaries; they supported what had happened. And 95% were religious; they believed in a "superior" reality and felt they depended on it. The majority wanted changes in the here and now and trusted in the forces of the hereafter.
At that time, Cuban religiosity was a complex mixture of rites, beliefs and subjectivities. That mixture contained much less of those other ingredients that religion also has: institutionality, doctrine, authorities, norms, laws, commitments.
The initial matrix of this "muddle" was the Catholicism of a handful of uprooted Spanish adventurers and the animistic religions of hundreds of thousands of uprooted African slaves. Indigenous religiosity did not form part of this original mixture. The brutal blow of the Spanish invasion and the first years of conquest rapidly finished off Cuba's autochthonous peoples. Their only visible legacy was the name Cuba, their name for the island. There was no need, therefore, to tear the religion of the vanquished out by the roots in order to impose the religion of the victors, as occurred in many other places in America.
Although both Spanish and Africans were uprooted, the blacks were numerically greater than the whites for centuries. Thus, though Catholicism was the official and public religion and the Africans' religions were clandestine and prohibited, there was for centuries more playing of drums invoking far-off Nigerian orishas (ancestral gods) than Latin masses before baroque altars. Very quickly, people and religions began to mix together.
To this original Christian-Catholic-Yoruba-Santería mix, which prevails in the soul of the Cuban majority even today, various spiritualist beliefs were added in the mid-19th century, including spiritism of Haitian origin. Keeping a more clear distance from the motley cocktail of beliefs, and remaining always in the minority, the Protestant churches began to arrive in Cuba. The Anglicans appeared first, and fleetingly, during the English occupation of Havana in 1762. Beginning in 1898, various US-based Protestant churches set up shop on the island and in some consciences.
Very few lived their religion in a pure state. Everything got mixed together: Superstition with devotion. The anti-clericalism of many Freemasons with respect for everything sacred—including the clergy—of the many indifferent. Praying the rosary with the famous Clavelito's rosary of spiritual consultations on radio. Love for the Virgin of Charity with the questioning of charity as a substitute for justice. The historic distance of the Church with the natural closeness of faith.
Everything syncretized. One could be a Mason and a Catholic. Around people's necks the cross hung together with the red necklaces of Changó or the yellow ones of Ochún. Promises were made to St. Barbara and masses were said for the dead in the parishes. All dividing lines were erased. Those baptized with water in Catholic churches also put glasses of water for the spirits at the foot of their beds, and asked the babalaos to interpret shells for them or paleros to do a work for them. They prayed Ave Marías, did pilgrimages on their knees to the sanctuary of St. Lazarus, the great Babalu Aye, and sometimes peeked in at a Protestant service or read some phrases from the neighbor's bible.
Hardly anybody saw the knots of contradiction in the threads making up this tangled web of beliefs. And as the new year dawned in 1959, hardly anyone saw the contradiction between religion and revolution. But it was there.
*The Revolution Came Before the CouncilThe first contradictions emerged among Catholic authorities, some bishops and some priests who, after enthusiastically receiving the revolutionary process, found themselves very surprised by a radicalism they had not expected. They first rejected it with mistrust, and finally confronted it with organized, even armed, aggression.
It was a political conflict; a conflict between powers. Between the cultural-ideological power of the Catholic Church—the oldest Cuban institution—and the new revolutionary power. Unlike in other Latin American countries, there had never been a Christian Democratic party in Cuba, a party inspired by the Church's social doctrine, to take a protagonist role in this initial conflict. At first, the religiosity of the majority of the people, which was not institutionally solid and had a weak doctrinal base, stayed out of the conflict. The darts were thrown from power to power.
To understand better the reasons for this inaugural clash, it is very helpful to look at a calendar. In January 1959, while audacious bearded guerrillas were dismantling the Batista dictatorship and US dominion in Cuba, in Rome the audacious Pope John XXIII woke up the Catholic Church from years of lethargy to convoke a Council. The Cuban revolution and Vatican II; two historic events that marked a century coming to an end.
Although the Catholic authorities who clashed with the revolution had a genuine concern for social problems, they had an even greater dose of monolithic pre-Vatican thinking. Those bishops—also priests and nuns—lacked the theoretical tools and practical experience with which to understand what was going on, accept the autonomy of that process, interpret it with greater flexibility, approach the changes with an attitude of dialogue and, above all, accompany them with the humility of yeast which decides to dissolve itself in the dough. The case of guerrilla priest Guillermo Sardiñas was a brilliant and precursory exception.
The revolutionary changes got underway in the most intense moments of the Cold War, and the revolutionary government's early decision to look to the USSR to confront the US policy of isolation and aggression led the hierarchy to confrontation. It could only see the Cuban Church "silenced" behind another "iron curtain."
*Revolution: Bad and ReversibleThe conflict had both an ideological and a political source. The Catholic hierarchy bet on confrontation with these two clear premises: the revolutionary process was "bad"—the ideological dogma of "intrinsically perverse" communism—and reversible—the political dogma of the United States' invincible power in the continent. Although the ecclesiastical authorities at first applauded the revolution's social justice objectives as well as its initial achievements, by the end of 1959 their declarations were coloring everything positive they found with the "bad" that could be assumed by the shift to atheistic communism. After such declarations and backing up opposition groups, including armed ones, in ecclesiastical spaces, three priests landed at the Bay of Pigs in 1961 together with 1,200 armed counterrevolutionaries. With a cross on their uniforms, they came with the "mission" of "turning back the bad."
Betting on confrontation was not successful; very few were convinced that the process was evil and nothing was turned back. Nonetheless, hostilities between the religious and revolutionary powers in 1959-1961 would mark the path of events. And they would justify the immobility of positions of both clashing powers.
If the Catholic authorities—and the Protestant as well—didn't understand the revolution, the revolutionary authorities also didn't understand either the depth of religious acts or the Cuban people's religious feelings as they reacted. In 1959, were the miracles of an opening in the Church and of lucidity in the revolution possible? That conflict, like any other, was a child of its time.
*Three Years of Political-Ideological ConflictIn the conflict with the revolution, some church authorities defended the interests of those being displaced from economic and political power, with whom they had historical, family and formal ties. But, above all, the bishops jealously defended space for the ideology of the Catholic institution, as was their duty even though it was not in the majority among the population's religiosity.
The Catholic authorities viewed with mounting fear how traditional ideology, permeated throughout with religiosity, began to be overtaken by another ideology, the all-embracing and totalizing revolutionary ideology. The bishops defended a system of values and a vision of life and of the world—a religion—that felt itself in danger and at a disadvantage before a powerful competitor. A revolution, in its beginnings, is also a sort of "religion" that encompasses one, that one converts to, that one believes and puts one's hopes in, that inspires love, loyalty and dedication, implies work and demands sacrifices.
The new revolutionary government responded to the criticisms of the Church hierarchy by denouncing it, cornering it, and punishing it with the weight of law or with the push of the new reality. All bishops were categorically ignored; and pitched battles broke out during some celebrations in some churches, rejecting the sermons of some clergy. Catholic churches and institutions where arms were being hidden or there were suspicions of arms were raided. There was a public campaign to discredit priests, groups and institutions. All Catholic spaces on radio and television were shut down. Finally, in 1961, after the Bay of Pigs, a bishop and 131 priests and religious brothers were expelled from Cuba.
A fence of control and intimidation was installed around the Catholic Church in those first years. Similar actions-reactions also took place for similar reasons with authorities, groups and institutions of various Protestant churches, though to a lesser degree.
In 1962, when the revolution had already proclaimed itself "socialist" and inspired by Marxism-Leninism, the waters began to return to their courses after a lucid Vatican representative, Cesare Zacchi, who favored a truce, got both sides to begin to reflect. The government closed its campaign and the Catholic bishops retreated into a prolonged silence, issuing no more pronouncements. A long and little-studied stage in the history of the Cuban Church and its relations with the revolutionary government began.
*Pro-Patria Potestas and Anti-CommunistThe social, political, economic and human convulsion, unleashed by any such genuine revolution as Cuba's, sparked a massive exodus of Cubans from the first moment, primarily to the United States. The first to go were those whose pocketbooks were affected by the nationalization, agrarian reform or urban reform laws. Some others also left in those first years who had lost nothing and had nothing to lose, but were ideologically afraid of the sea of changes. Some feared that "communism" would take away their "patria potestas" (in Roman law, the right of the head of a family over his wife and children) and take their children "to Russia," so they left with their children or sent them alone to foreign countries in order to "save them." Others, but very few, opted for exile specifically in response to the bishops' call: "Do not collaborate at all with communism."
Among those who left were the most public and committed Catholic Church base—the upper and even middle classes, many professionals. All of those first exiles were white. This voluntary exodus—which was expected to be brief, because almost everyone trusted in a rapid US action that would put things back in place—disarticulated an endless number of Catholic associations and organizations, some with social work and influence. The exodus weakened the voice of the Catholic hierarchy even more, by reducing at one blow the audience most receptive to its messages.
A great part of the historic Protestant church leadership also opted for exile with similar, but not identical, consequences. Cuban Protestantism was largely apolitical, and divorced religious beliefs from social commitments. The Baptist pastor Raúl Suárez recently recalled, with humor and embarrassment, that the theme for reflection around the time that the revolution triumphed was, "Should a Christian smoke?"
*The Final Blow: Private SchoolsIn 1961, not even a month after Cuba's victory over the United States at the Bay of Pigs, the Catholic institution was given the final blow: the revolutionary government declared the nationalization of all private schools—Catholic, Protestant and secular. More than parochial catechisms or other forms of pastoral work, even more than religious indoctrination received in the family, the Catholic schools throughout the entire island were the institutions that guaranteed the continuity of Catholic doctrine and practice in Cuba, especially among the well-off classes, an important sector of the middle classes and even a certain sector of the popular classes—especially whites, given that many of these schools would not admit black students. The poor got in on scholarships or studied in nearby installations: the "free school" for "poor children."
The nationalization of private schools was not an anti-religious measure as much as a measure to massify education. It didn't imply expelling from the country nuns and priests who taught in them, or displacing them from their tasks—they taught not only religion but also a good number of other classes. Even so, all the nuns, brothers and priests dedicated to teaching unanimously decided to leave the country. It was another massive exodus that ended up bleeding Catholic institutionality. At the end of 1961, only 400 of the 800 priests and 2,000 nuns in Cuba at the moment of the revolution remained.
Why did all the religious leave at that crucial time? Didn't the congregations think about holding onto strategic spaces of influence, maintaining at least some of their members in nationalized schools, as public servants who would work with the advantage of experience and accumulated prestige? Why didn't they engage that battle? Would the government have let them? Why did they abandon the battlefield? Why didn't they collaborate with communism? Were they afraid of suffering "persecution" like in the Spanish Civil War, so close for many because of their Spanish backgrounds? Did they also trust less in their own pastoral action than that US actions would put an end to the revolutionary experience and allow them to return triumphantly to their schools in Cuba? We will never have exact responses, but the fact is that they left, abandoning not only schools, but also large convents, asylums and hospitals.
When this legion of excellent educators left Cuba—the majority with their 19th century habits—the Vatican II Council had not yet begun in Rome. It would not begin meeting until October 1962. The dogmatic training of those who left contaminated the Cuban revolution with another sort of dogmatism.
*Two Serious and Protracted MistakesRevolutionary power reacted firmly to the Catholic hierarchy, though it never reached the extremes of other revolutions. Priests were not imprisoned—although a good-sized group was expelled and priests and nuns were forbidden from entering the country for many years. Churches in the cities were not closed, although Catholics and Protestants were prohibited from building new ones, but churches in small towns were closed, leading to a notable decrease in the number of priests.
These were all political measures. But, wrapped up in this political confrontation with religious power, the revolution made two ideological mistakes: it considered the doctrine of Church authorities equal to the religious beliefs of the Cuban people and it confused all forms of religiosity with a danger to the revolution. The revolution hid behind the political conflict to throw the abused term "opium of the masses" at religion and attack those religious who survived the initial crisis. The biggest error of all was how long it maintained these two mistaken positions.
*The Majority Privatized their ReligiosityThe religious: that is what believers of any religious tradition, Christian or not, are called in Cuba. During and after this conflict, what happened to those 95% of Cubans of all ages who in their own way were religious when the revolution triumphed? How did they react to these events?
There was a massive "privatizing" of religiosity in those first revolutionary years, to which various factors contributed. A great majority considered the hierarchy's attitude in confronting the process and the revolution's reaction as an essentially political problem in which they took the revolution's side. The majority had a diffuse and pragmatic religiosity, only sporadically linked to the hierarchy, with religious practices only on certain dates and at certain periods in life: for every need, a promise, a mass, a visit to church... In addition, the majority practiced this diffuse religiosity through Santería and did not link their ancestral beliefs and their gods with "opium" or with anything of the kind.
More than all of this, in those years the immense majority of Cubans found themselves involved in a process that offered new spaces, important discoveries and responsibilities, great dreams, historic awareness, values and also a response to the needs of health, food and work, all of this in competition with what religion offered. These changes were of such personal and collective impact, so absorbing and fascinating, that most saw no conflict between their religion and their revolution. They substituted one for the other or simply, with no drama or trauma, privatized their religiosity in the depths of their hearts. There were too many tasks in the here and now; religion, which deals with the hereafter, could wait.
*The 1960s: Marginalized ReligiousBut not everyone responded that way. A calvary began for the less powerful, for those who remained in Cuba after the massive exodus of the first years pushed the politicized religious, the politicians hiding behind religion and a few others off the stage. The cross was heavy for those with a more defined religiosity or one with more conviction, for more active Catholics or Protestants, for those with more doctrinal training or militant tendencies. Although the majority of them did not want to and had no reason to come into conflict with a revolution that aimed to benefit them, they saw the revolution as something that entered into conflict with them. A contradiction that was less and less political and more and more ideological.
The 1960s, which were the "freshest" years of the Cuban revolution, when thinking was more audacious and innovative, were, paradoxically, those of greatest dogmatism against the "religious." In the name of defense of the revolution, the society established an extensive, permanent and harassing discrimination against them. A similar or even more blunt marginalization was also installed in those years against those who decided to leave Cuba and were waiting for permission to do so.
In the religious terrain, it was not only that all Cubans with religious beliefs were prohibited from becoming members of the only party in the revolution and the nation, founded in 1965 with the name Communist Party of Cuba (PCC). Though that was a serious blow to national unity, the worst was daily life. Practicing religion or expressing religious convictions was considered both a political risk and backward thinking. It was prohibited to speak of religion outside of the four walls of churches. The religious were the object not only of control for security reasons, but also of mockery for ideological reasons. At the very least they were looked on with prejudice. Religion was officially and extra-officially considered a flaw, an obscurantist anachronism, which should be abandoned and in fact—so went the logic—would be as the revolution advanced.
* Che's Call Fell on Deaf EarsAt the beginning of the 1960s, Che Guevara, who also wanted to push beyond all borders, made one of his most famous statements: "When Christians dare to bear integral revolutionary witness, the Latin American revolution will be invincible." Paradoxes of history: with that phrase Che led Latin American religious leaders to reflect, but within Cuba itself, it barely touched the reflections of Cuban revolutionaries. His lucid premonition, which saw the union of religious and non-religious not only as possible but also as necessary to achieve social change, should at least have led to a debate—there were other interesting debates about other misunderstood aspects of Marxism in those years—but it didn't happen. Che's call fell on deaf ears. Some years later, in 1966, the daring and luminous holistic witness of Colombian priest Camilo Torres was also incapable of modifying the situation.
In the religious sphere, more than in any other, simplistic thinking prevailed together with that dogmatism born of fear and defensive attitudes. In any job, at any school, for any scholarship or any trip, it was obligatory to declare whether one was religious, or ever had been. If the response was affirmative, opportunities were reduced or totally withdrawn for job promotions, professional study options, traveling to study, taking on leadership positions. Many lied on their forms, while a minority made the confession of their religious beliefs a test of the maturity of their faith.
Innumerable stories from the 1960s are still told today. Little girls and boys suffered teasing from their classmates at school; they were laughed at when seen entering a church and accused of being "sanctimonious;" stone-throwing battles between religious and non-religious; "acts of repudiation" with showers of stones or insults at the doors of churches; satires against cassocked priests; public recriminations; sanctions... "Shame them in front of everyone, refuse to greet them, turn your back on them, all of that."
Many of the victims of these unjust past incidents will be at the plaza listening to John Paul II, and some will feel a sort of "historic revenge." One of those who had been discriminated against told me once that those who were treated badly can be divided in two groups: those who, because they are Christians, learned to forgive, and those who still must learn that lesson—and the difference between the two is recognizable.
* Christmas: Forbidden Before, Privatized NowA symbolic expression of this offensive against popular religiosity in those first years was the suppression of the celebration of Christmas. Holy Week had already been eliminated and Sunday was used for "voluntary tasks," which some interpreted as an anti-religious defiance.
For over 30 years, Cuba was the only Western country with a Christian culture where December 24 and 25 were workdays like any other day of the year, and in public places there was not one symbol typical of this celebration which, albeit of religious origins, has been converted into a worldwide cultural celebration—in some cases more sincerely than others—of the humanism of the message of Jesus of Nazareth, whose birth is symbolized in trees, crowns, candles, stars and the figures of shepherds, sheep and the Three Kings.
Christmas was also "privatized." In recent years, tourist affluence has obliged the putting up of Christmas trees in hotels and the offering of trees for sale in the state stores that sell in dollars. Christmas is still "privatized" today, no longer in the name of official atheism but in that of the strictly interpreted official secular position, which persists in the same absurd cultural practices. In the name of scrupulous fulfillment of a secular position that favors no religion—it was expressly forbidden in 1994 for state buildings to exhibit Christmas decorations or for Cuban radios—all state-run—to play religious Christian songs or those "dedicated to any deity."
* Subtle Discrimination?The institutional expression of religious intolerance in the 1960s was the creation in 1963 of UMAP (Military Units to Help Production). In special installations and segregated from the rest of the population, "the socially licentious" fulfilled a special military service through UMAP consisting of agricultural work. Homosexuals, delinquents, marijuana smokers, seminary students and priests, Protestant pastors, Jehovah's Witnesses, people with long hair, rockers and anyone else "different" were sent there because they would dishonor the country if they joined the army and carried arms. UMAP lasted almost two years.
Fidel Castro declared in 1985 that there was no "religious persecution" by the revolution and that what still existed in the 1980s was "a certain form of subtle discrimination." Perhaps the adjective "subtle" is what persists in official history, but it does not seem to be the most appropriate word to describe the real history of those long years.
The meeting between Diego and David in the film "Strawberry and Chocolate" paints in a genial manner the hardly subtle air of intolerance that existed in 1979—when the film takes place—which marginalized and harassed "different people," including the religious.
Cuban culture has Christian roots and one of its basic virtues is tolerance—Cubans are naturally eclectic, open to everything and tend to make creative mixes—as the film also paints fabulously. But the Cuban revolution forgot this substratum, forgot Martí—a profoundly religious man, intransigent in principles but always tolerant and inclusive in human relations—and for too long caused unnecessary suffering.
* Blockaded Island, Blockaded ChurchesWhen religion was "privatized," its institutional spaces were socially weakened. Religious conviction, however, always on the defensive, was strengthened in the conscience of a minority that, despite pressure and mockery, decided to proclaim themselves believers. Meanwhile, the religiosity of the majority, subdued by the imposed "sociological atheism," continued to grow on its own, putting down roots in the consciences of those who "didn't choose that struggle."
The blockade with which US imperialism punished Cuba beginning in 1961 increased these tendencies in religiosity and played a determining role in the isolation of religious Cubans. The Catholic and Protestant churches became more and more isolated once Cuba became separated from its natural geographic area when all of Latin America, except Mexico, obeyed the imperial US order and broke relations with the island. Their congregations were increasingly just elderly members, cut off from the reality of poverty and violence lived by their brothers and sisters on the continent, as well as from the reflections and practices that began to change many Latin American Christians who decided to fight against structural sin and dared to bear the "integral witness" that the visionary Che had dreamed of.
Outside of the upheaval in Latin American ecclesiastical history, the Cuban Churches, geographically isolated on the island, lived for many years on their reserves: the old doctrines, traditional rites, practices, languages, styles and rules of conduct that were being questioned and overcome in the rest of the continent. Churches frozen in their dogmas faced off against a revolution also frozen in its. In 1968 the Latin American Catholic Church initiated its own "revolution" with the meeting of its bishops in Medellín, but the Cuban religious heard few echoes from that transcendental event.
If the US blockade on Cuba has generated self-blockades and innumerable defensive attitudes in Cuba in the process, something very similar happened to the church institutions and to the sector of believers most closely linked to them. Many years would have to pass before the beginning of that "unblockade" that John Paul II finds has not yet concluded and towards which his visit is just one step of many more that will have to be made.
* 1970s: Atheism and Soviet ManualsThe 1970s were years of institutionalization for the revolution. After the "10 million harvest" disaster, Cuba turned more decidedly to the USSR, improved its alliances with the Socialist camp and adopted many of its organizational forms. Soviet-style Marxism, now present in the revolution, took over all turf and imposed its dogmas.
There was an accentuated "copying" of real Soviet socialism, and in the packet of photocopies imported from far-off USSR came, with even more accentuated tendencies, the concept of atheism as state "religion." Although discrimination against the religious no longer had the biting mockery in those years that had characterized some episodes of the 1960s, atheism was institutionalized and officialized throughout the educational system and in the 1976 Constitution.
Manuals that distorted and deformed essential aspects of Marx's marxism, just as certain catechisms do with the teachings of Jesus, circulated throughout the island. Both manuals and catechisms are learned—never questioned, never debated—and memorized. Those Soviet texts taught that the greatest of human errors is "idealism," identified all religions with idealism and mysticism, and in some even claimed that Jesus of Nazareth was not a real historical figure but an idealistic creation in the minds of the slaves of the Roman empire.
The massive indoctrination through manuals impoverished Cuban Marxism, attacked the national culture and consolidated the ideas that had been developing around the issue of religion. The accurate criticism of religion made by Martí was substituted by the sweeping criticisms made in the manuals. The PCC program platform for those years stated that religion "is characterized by constituting a distorted and fantastical reflection of exterior reality." Public school teaching—the only education—adopted the postulates of "the scientific concept of the world," that of dialectic and historic materialism understood through the manuals, dogmatically. And although not all teachers and professors were dedicated to actively proselytizing in favor of atheism, many of them geared their tasks to promoting an a-religious or anti-religious conscience in their students.
Some did this through mockery. I still remember a high school teacher on the Island of Youth explaining to me, with barely concealed pride, his ability to use the space race to demonstrate to students that spaceships and satellites, both Soviet and US, were giving us definite proof that God does not exist: "Listen to me. So many astronauts have gone into space and not one has seen a trace of God!" That was 1984. At that time, Paulo Freire's educational books were still absent from Cuba.
This pseudo-scientific bias coincided with the massification of education, plus a tendency to compartmentalize and specialize teaching in the US style, separating each area of knowledge from the others, plus the willingness to relegate humanities and social sciences to an inferior category. All of that provoked a notable lack of harmony in the training of various generations. Just a few months ago some students from the School of Fine Arts in Havana were searching high and low for a priest. They wanted him to explain about the "final judgment" that Michelangelo painted in the Vatican's Sistine Chapel. When they found one they explained to him that they were studying Michelangelo, but that the professor only taught style, technique, perspective, color, historical context...just that. The professor would not cross the frontier. "He says it's not his place to speak of the final judgment, that only a priest can explain that."
Now, with the Pope's visit, it's the priests' turn, and the turn of those who are not priests but know about the final judgment, to explain in a few short months what has not been known in all of these years of cultural collapse.
* Who Created the World?There's a joke that reflects the situation of those years of official atheism, that heavy varnish painted, layer upon layer, over people's spirituality and religiosity, which despite everything, continued to develop within many hearts:
After years of not seeing each other, two friends met in a Havana street. One was wearing a black priest's cassock and the other an olive green military uniform.
After greetings and hugs came the questions. And the soldier said to the priest:
"My brother! What's up in your life?"
"Can't you see?"
"But my friend, why do you still wear that black tunic and have those backward ideas? Do you really believe in those old tales?"
The priest offered a long response, insisting that such a beautiful world, with Cuba so beautiful in the midst of that world, could only be the work of God. The soldier opposed him. Finally, the two decided to resolve the dispute by asking the opinion of the first person to pass, which happened to be a small boy. The priest approached him and said:
"Come here a minute. Who do you think created the world?"
"Well, Father," he responded confidently, "who else? God created the world."
And then he saw the soldier and without skipping a beat added with the same certainty: "God created the world, but with the disinterested help of the socialist bloc and especially the collaboration of our brothers and sisters from the Soviet Union."
If in the 1960s there was an accumulation of suffering, a blind lack of comprehension and distance which the survivors of that crisis have not forgotten, there emerged in the 1970s an "atheistic," "scientifically" materialist generation. But that "atheism" was not an advance in rationality. It was a step back, an underdevelopment of the mind. It did not signify the necessary secular nature of the state, which recognizes the autonomy between subjective religiosity and social objectives. It also did not signify the modern secular conscience, no matter how much the revolutionary changes were modernizing Cuban society. Nor did it mean a sane and wise agnosticism which, full of respect, stops responsibly at the frontiers of "mystery." No, that atheism, massified by official ideology and imposed like a "state religion," was translated not into a solidly argumentative conviction as much as a crass religious un-culture, into a culture with too many gaps to be integral and into the hidden persistence, via underground roots, of many of the forms of religiosity that it wanted to combat and that today, entangled together, are flowering everywhere and emerging emotively, disparately, even frenetically, to greet the Holy Father.