Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 197 | Diciembre 1997




María López Vigil


1. African slavery in Cuba lasted almost four centuries. Between 1517, when the first group was unloaded, and 1873, when the last known slave cargo arrived, more than a half million Africans had come to Cuba, from some 20 different tribal groups. With their labor they made possible the great sugar fortunes. The slave trade was still flourishing in the 19th century. Between 1821 and 1860 alone over 350,000 Africans are documented as entering Cuba. Slavery was legally abolished quite late in Cuba: 1884. Together with Brazil, Cuba was the last Latin American country to wipe out this "original sin" from its history. The dramatic reality of slavery is still present in the deepest roots of national culture and popular religiosity among the Cuban people.

2. Within the Christian-Catholic tradition, the Virgin of Charity of Cobre is Cuba's patron. The small image carved from dark wood and set on a beam, with the phrase "I am the Virgin of Charity" written on it, appeared floating on the waters of Nipe Bay, in eastern Cuba, early in the 16th century. Documents dating from 1687 tell of the virgin being found by two Indians "native to the country" and a young black slave who were looking for salt. During the wars of independence, the medal of the Virgin of Charity lay on the chests of the mambises (Cuban patriots). The veterans of the wars of independence were the ones who requested that Pope Benedict XV officially declare the Virgin of Charity Cuba's patron saint. Her sanctuary was inaugurated in 1927 in the Cobre mountains; the virgin's image will be brought down to Santiago de Cuba to be crowned by John Paul II. Charity, "Cachita," is beloved by all Cubans. In the Santería religion she is Ochún, goddess of fresh water and honey, protector of pregnant women, and is honored with the color yellow.

3. According to Catholic Church sources, "eight Catholic priests joined the insurgent forces fighting against the Batista tyranny as chaplains, and others fought clandestinely." Rural parish priest Guillermo Sardiñas was the most committed, and ended up a rebel army officer after accompanying Fidel Castro and the guerrilla columns of the July 26 Movement for a year and a half, developing his pastoral work among the peasants in the Sierra Maestra, the guerrilla social base. With the triumph of the revolution, Sardiñas was granted the rank of Comandante at the request of Camilo Cienfuegos. Sardiñas died in 1964, at the age of 47, and until the end of his life he carried out his priestly ministry without taking off his olive green uniform. Without his knowing it, and without Cuban society reflecting sufficiently, Guillermo Sardiñas was the precursor of the legions of priests and religious people who in later years became committed in various ways to armed liberation movements throughout Latin America.

4. The Cuban Catholic Church did not begin its social work, with the first hospital, until almost 100 years after Spanish colonization began. The mid-18th century was a golden epoch: there were 561 priests and 46 of the 50 who attended parishes were Creoles. In the first third of the 19th century, however, the Church entered a serious crisis that lasted over a century: the clergy were pro-Spanish and opposed independence; they worked in a disorganized fashion and lived in moral degradation. This prolonged situation consolidated a lack of religious culture, all forms of religious syncretization and seeds of deep anti-clericalism within a broad sector of Cubans.

5. The Catholic priest Felix Varela (1788-1853) is one of the cornerstones of Cuban culture. He opened paths from his professorship in the San Carlos and San Ambrosio seminary in Havana, an institution that for the first time began to "look at Cuba's problems with Cuban eyes." The teacher of the generation who fought for independence in 1868, José de la Luz y Caballero, said of Father Varela that he was "the first one who taught us to think." Varela was the first to begin speaking of the need for Cuba to become independent from Spain, was the impassioned pioneer of the ideas that proposed the abolition of slavery and taught Cubans that "the first thing" that one must learn to do is "to think." Varela wrote, taught and preached. Because of his opposition to the Spanish, he lived many years in exile in New York, where he worked as a lawyer for the most marginalized immigrants of the time, the Irish. He was an educated, wise and saintly man, whose beatification procedure is still in process. There is a desire to finish it in time for Pope John Paul to proclaim him beatified when he visits Cuba. Varela is a religious and patriotic figure of great consensus: among exiled Cubans and those on the island, among Communists and Catholics, among all believing and non-believing Cubans.

6. On the night of November 28, 1959, the Cuban Catholic Church called the people to a Catholic Congress which consisted of an outdoor nighttime mass, preceded by a candlelit procession that culminated in the then-named Civic Plaza (later changed to Plaza of the Revolution). The Congress sought a massive demonstration of faith when the tensions between Catholic authorities and the revolutionary government began. The Virgin of Charity, traveling from the other end of the island, presided over the Congress. Some 100,000 people went to the plaza, including Fidel Castro himself and other officials of the new government. Below are some of the words spoken on that occasion by the Bishop of Matanzas, Alberto Martín Villaverde, which illustrate the theological and political tone of the moment: "There are only two philosophies in this century: the philosophy of materialism and the philosophy of the reign of God. Materialism was preached and hatred was harvested; we preached the reign of God and we harvested love. So let the people choose: either the reign of God and being brothers and sisters in justice and love, or the reign of materialism and one against the other in the struggle of the fittest.... The Catholic people of Cuba have come together in this great Congress to tell the world that we have chosen."

7. Of all the Cuban prelates, the one who most frequently preached about the conflict with "communism" in the new revolution, and did so in the terms most revealing of the ecclesiastical mentality of the time, between 1959 and 1961, was the Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba, Enrique Pérez Serantes. He declared in a statement in May 1960: "The enemy is inside, speaking strongly, like someone in their own home... What should be the attitude of the Catholics?.... We find ourselves in need of recommending, and even warning our parish members (and if necessary all Cubans) not to cooperate in any way with communism, or go arm in arm with it; even more, try to get as far away as possible from this arrogant and implacable enemy of Christianity."

8. The Bishops' Collective Bulletin, dated August 7, 1960, signed by the nine bishops in Cuba at that time, marks a rupture with the revolutionary process. After praising the revolution's "social measures"--while still distancing themselves from some points of concrete application--the bishops focused on "a problem of extraordinary seriousness which no person of faith can deny in this moment: the growing advance of communism in our country." And they added, "In recent months the Cuban government has established close commercial, cultural and diplomatic ties with the governments of the primary Communist countries, especially the Soviet Union. We would have nothing to say from the pastoral position about the strictly commercial or economic aspects of these relations, but are deeply disturbed by the fact that government journalists, union leaders and even some high government figures have repeatedly and warmly praised the ways of living in those nations, and have even suggested, in speeches both in and outside of Cuba, the existence of comparisons and analogies in goals and procedures between the social revolutions of those countries and the Cuban revolution. We are deeply concerned about this point, because Catholicism and Communism respond to two totally opposite concepts of man and the world, which can never possibly be reconciled.... In effect, we condemn Communism because, in the first place, it is an essentially materialist and atheistic doctrine, and because the governments guided by it figure among the worst enemies that the Church and humanity have known in all of history." Other condemnations of Communism for other reasons, referring to individual rights, followed. And the bishops concluded: "The absolute majority of Cubans, who are Catholics, are against materialistic and atheistic Communism, and only by deceit and coercion could they be led to a communist regime."

9. Before the revolution, according to 1953 data, there were 51 Catholic schools for boys and 107 for girls. There was also a Catholic university in Havana, Santo Tomás de Villanueva. Fidel Castro went to the primary school of the Brothers of La Salle and the prestigious Jesuit school in Santiago de Cuba, the Dolores School; and he graduated from the most important religious high school of the island, also Jesuit, the Belén School in Havana.

10. The Cuban bishops' last pastoral letter in this initial stage of conflict was an open letter to Fidel Castro in December 1961, expressing a series of "concerns." From that date until a statement published in April 1969, no other text from the bishops appeared. Many years later, in 1986, the Cuban Church spoke this way of its prolonged silence: "The Cuban Church in Cuba has made a clear choice of seriousness and serenity in the treatment of questions, through direct and frank dialogue with the nation's authorities, not through declarations that can serve as propaganda in one sense or another, and in maintaining a dual and demanding fidelity: to the Church and to country. This in part explains the Church's silence, which certainly has not been total, either in Cuba or on the continent, in the last 25 years."

11. Fidel Castro alluded to religious issues on rare occasions in the 1960s and 1970s. One of the most extensive of these allusions was in a speech in La Demajagua on October 10, 1968, commemorating 100 years since the initiation of the war of independence. His words express the tone and atmosphere of those years: "The enemies' hatred grows as the revolution gets stronger.... What level does it reach? Incredible levels in all orders, including the ridiculous. We recently read a cable that spoke of a Spanish priest who was organizing prayers against the revolution in Miami. A Spanish priest who, it was said, prayed that the revolution would destroy itself. He even gave masses so that revolutionary leaders would die in accidents or be assassinated, in order to bring down the revolution.... This philosophy of the reactionaries, of the imperialists, is interesting. They themselves said that when they organized a counterrevolutionary meeting only 200 people came; but they organized a prayer meeting against the revolution and thousands of gusanos went. This obviously meant that the counterrevolution is ending up being all the pious and ridiculous gusanos who go to mass. What religious spirit among those believers! What religious spirit of that priest who gives masses so that people will be assassinated or die! If the priest told us that there is a prayer to reject imperialists if they invade our country, we would tell this priest to go to hell with your prayer; we're in charge of annihilating the invaders, the imperialists, with a clean shot and a clean cannon! The Vietnamese do not pray against the imperialists, nor do the heroic people of Korea pray against the imperialists, nor did our militia offer prayers against the mercenaries who came armed with skulls, crucifixes and I don't know what other things. They came in the name of God, with cures and everything, to kill peasant women, to kill boys and girls, to destroy the riches of this country.... It is not the prayers of the priest or the pious crowd that concerns this revolution."

12. For almost two years, young Cuban seminary students and priests did their military service in UMAP together with other "different" people, one of whom was singer/songwriter Pablo Milanés. Today's Cardinal of Havana, Jaime Ortega, was in one of those installations for almost six months, when he was already an ordained priest. Currently a representative in the Popular Power Assembly, Baptist pastor Raúl Suárez was also in UMAP. Beginning in 1979--with UMAP finally dissolved--Catholic seminary students combined studies with agricultural work, as did the rest of Cuban youth. "All of the country's other institutions do this and we don't want the seminary to be an exception, because manual labor has a training value that is reflected in the future priest and because with that work we want to give a modest support to the country's development," commented Bishop Pedro Meurice, then president of the Bishops' Conference, in declarations to the Cuban press in l981.

13. For the first time, Cuban bishops denounced in 1969 the "unjust situation of the blockade" that Cuba had suffered since 1961. In April 1969, in a statement referring to the Latin American bishops' meeting in Medellín, which reflected on the continent's underdevelopment, the bishops referred to the blockade, but without mentioning the United States. "Who among us," they wrote, "is not aware of all the difficulties that delay the path leading to development? Internal difficulties, found in the newness of the issue and its technical complexity, although also a product of the deficiencies and sins of men, but in no lesser proportion external difficulties, linked to the complexities that condition contemporary structures of relations between people in the weak, small, underdeveloped countries unjustly put at a disadvantage. Isn't this the case of an economic blockade that our people have been subjected to, whose automatic prolongation accumulates serious problems for our country? Problems that weigh, primarily, on our urban and rural workers, our homemakers, our children and youth in the process of growth, our sick; that is, on so many families affected by the separation of their loved ones." Although the blockade continued to cause these problems, the bishops did not speak of this issue again until 23 years later, in a declaration in October 1992, when they "rejected" the "intensifying of the US economic embargo against our country, promoted by the Torricelli Law." They stated then that all embargoes are "a measure of force that is a participant, in a certain form, in the violence of war" and are "ethically unacceptable" because they affect the trade of essential products for people. In March 1996, the Cuban bishops published a declaration in which they criticized the Helms-Burton Law. They expressed their concern because this legislation "threatens to distance the probability of finding peaceful measures that lead to the reconciliation of all Cubans."

14. In 1992, and very much "from above," transcendental reforms were instituted, both ideologically and economically, in the 1976 Constitution. Several articles of those reforms led to the disappearance of the state's confessional atheism. An example: article 38 of the 1976 Constitution, which referred to the state's responsibility to orient, promote and foment education and culture, read that the state "bases its educational and cultural policy on the scientific concept of the world, established and developed by Marxism- Leninism." The same article of the reformed Constitution (now article 39) reads that the state "bases its educational and cultural policy on the advances in science and technology, ideas of Marx and Martí, Cuban and universal progressive pedagogical tradition." Article 41, which allowed legal discrimination for religious and other reasons, was drastically changed. The 1976 Magna Carta said: "Discrimination because of race, color, sex or national origin is forbidden and sanctionable by law." After 1992, that article (now article 42) said: "Discrimination because of race, skin color, sex, national origin, religious beliefs and any other prejudice to human dignity is forbidden and sanctionable by law."

15. Fragments of a suggestive song that popular singer-songwriter Pedro Luis Ferrer used to sing in the years of official atheism:
I have a Palero friend
I have an Abakuá friend
they're better men and better friends
than some who aren't anything
A guy from the extreme left
saw me with an Abakuá
and told me: Sell off your buddy
because you're going on board
I told him: Relax,
my buddy's a good person
I'm only seeing him off
because he's going to Angola.


And then they justify themselves
denying that Heaven exists
quoting me Karl Marx, Lenin
and the whole bunch
I don't know Calderón
not Calderón de la Barca
just the one who raises pheasants
to eat first-class eggs
And then they justify themselves
with Engels and Capital
saying that there's no God
waiting for us in Heaven

I know the commune
not the one that rose up in Paris
but the one that's living
very different from you and me
And then they justify themselves
saying that the being comes first
and the spirit is just
the reflection of our life.


I have a Palero friend
I have an Abakuá friend
they're better men and better friends
than some that aren't anything.


1. On Fidel Castro's visit to Chile in 1971, during the Salvador Allende government, he met with a group of priests, with whom he shared ideas like this: "I tell you that there are 10,000 more commonalities between Christianity and Communism than there are between Christianity and capitalism. Although we have different motivations, the attitudes and behavior that we propose are very similar." To Christian church leaders in Jamaica in 1977, even before Nicaragua's revolutionary triumph, he said the following, among other things: "We have to work together so that when the political idea triumphs, the religious idea isn't set apart and doesn't appear to be the enemy of change. There are no contradictions between the proposals of religion and socialism. None. We should make an alliance--not a tactical alliance, but a strategic one--between religion and socialism, between religion and the revolution." Within the Cuban Communist Party, these open, anti-dogmatic positions of Fidel's with respect to religion appear to have remained in the minority for many years.

2. In February 1986 the Cuban Catholic Church culminated five years of collective reflection with the Cuban National Ecclesiastical Meeting (ENEC). At that time, there were in Cuba 200 priests, 300 nuns, and an undetermined though very small number of Catholic lay people who were actually linked to the ecclesiastical institution. Some texts from that event reflect the spirit that energized them. There was humility in the speech of then Bishops' Conference president Adolfo Rodríguez when he stated: "ENEC should not go down in history as a judgment, for that pertains only to God. It's not clear that a man or an institution or a system can change the direction of another from without, through force or condemnation. The epochs in which we tried to combat errors through the Inquisition still weigh heavily on our memories, and there were no positive results. Then through the Index, and there were no positive results. Then through the Holy Office and there were no positive results. Finally through the apologetics, and there were no positive results there either." There is also realism: "No one will find a spirit of revenge, resentment and recrimination in the Working Document, no desire to point out the wounds or harsh words of the older brother in the parable. There is also no cold strategy, or double meanings, or selfish calculations or false commitments or arrogant styles. Nor is there angelic candor, empty triumphalism, insincere accommodation or simplistic optimism to put cotton in our ears, to ignore our own mistakes and fail to see the mistakes of others." There is a positive spirit in his words: "Cubans, by our nature, are capable of building anything in common: and in common we are going to build this path to the Spirit, congratulating ourselves for so many things that work out well in our country and humbly asking ourselves what we can do so that those things that work out badly can work out well."

3. Freedom will probably be a theme in John Paul II's homilies and speeches while in Cuba. In the ENEC document Cuban Catholics made this lucid reflection about "freedom:" "Our society has made sincere efforts to promote essential rights like life, food, medical assistance, education, well-remunerated work, etc. We consider that this takes first priority: and we know that full achievement of these rights constitutes not only the condition for authentic freedom, but also a notable way of being free."
There is a lot of expectation about whether John Paul II will give recognition in his homilies and speeches to the values of Cuban revolutionary society or will fail to recognize them. In the ENEC document, Catholic Cubans recognized those values in this way: "God's action in human history is carried out not only through the Church and through Christians.... The Spirit goes where it wants to, including beyond the visible frontiers of ecclesiastical institutions. Socialist society has helped us to value the human person better and to acquire greater awareness of the social dimension of sin, especially in the face of different forms of injustice and inequality (racial, economic, etc.). It has taught us to give because of justice what before we gave out of charity; to better appreciate work, not only as a factor of production, but also as an element of human development; to understand the need for structural changes for a better distribution of goods and services (education, medical assistance, etc.); to promote more personal dedication and solidarity with others."
4. The book Fidel and Religion, which compiled the extensive interview that the Brazilian Dominican Frei Betto held with Fidel Castro, has been published in 28 countries and translated into more than 20 languages. On the tenth anniversary of the book's publication in Cuba, Betto said that it was written for the entire Cuban religious community which, for so many years and despite everything, had "faith that Christianity and the revolution are compatible." In 1993, Betto published another interesting book in Brazil, BIO paraíso perdido. Nos bastidores do socialismo,B Din which he relates various details about the trips he made in the 1980s to other countries with real socialism--Cuba, Nicaragua, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Poland, the USSR and China--also in search of a better relationship between Christianity and socialism. In this book Betto makes a suggestive characterization of the Cuban revolution, and offers an opinion about the impression the Jesuits left on Fidel and Raúl Castro, who were students in their schools. Betto says that the Jesuits influenced them in "certain preponderant aspects of the Cuban revolution, like volunteerism, ethical sense, institutional verticalism, the spirit of sacrifice in work, obedience to superior decisions and the missionary willingness to be open to the international arena." And he concluded: "The more one knows about the character and style of the Society of Jesus, the more will one understand the characteristics of a Cuba governed by Fidel."

5. The Cuban Communist Party's official positions on religion show an evolution. The I and II PCC Congresses (1975 and 1980), established the systematic dissemination of "scientific atheism" as a basic task. In the I Congress, religion and revolution were presented as antagonistic realities. In the II Congress, influenced by what was happening in Latin America, religious revolutionaries were considered strategic allies. On that occasion "freedom of conscience" was defined as "the citizens' right to profess any religion or religious belief, or not to profess any at all." In that right was included "the celebrating of religious services at the preference of the believer." Religion was thus reduced to a private attitude and was limited in the social sphere to religious services. In the III Congress (1986), scientific atheism was no longer mentioned and, when speaking of religion, reference was made to Latin American Christians who "from their faith" had committed themselves to liberation struggles. "It was the first time in history," Frei Betto would note years later, "that a Communist party recognized that the motivations that lead Christians to the revolutionary struggle are not necessarily Marxist influences, but can be their own faith." The IV Congress (1991) took a decisive step: it excluded from the PCC statutes the statement that religious beliefs were an obstacle to joining the Party. In the just-held V Congress (October 1997) this theme was not addressed, which is inexplicable from the viewpoint of the need for adequate evaluation and reflection after the important step taken by the PCC in 1991.

6. Since 1979 there has been talk of a possible visit to Cuba by Karol Wojtyla, elevated to Pope in 1978. In 1981 the international media spoke for the first time of this imminent trip. As time went by, the news dissolved. In February 1989 Fidel publicly expressed the government's willingness to have the visit, and the Bishops' Conference wrote him a letter giving thanks for this willingness, proposing that the government and the bishops formally invite the Pope and agree on the date for the visit. "Aware that this project should take place at a prudential moment," the bishops considered that the visit could happen before 1991. In 1989 European socialism began to fall and Cuba was up in arms about the Ochoa case. lans for the visit stagnated while both sides waited for a more propitious moment. In 1991, when both invitations had been sent but the date was not yet set, the bishops published a pastoral letter "about the upcoming visit" of the Pope. In 1993, the bishops' Message "Love Always Hopes" contributed to setting back the date. Almost four years later, the private audience between John Paul II and Fidel Castro (November 1996) lit the definitive green light for both the Church and the government.

7. An official, unpublished study by researchers from the Social and Psychological Research Center (CIPS) of Havana, done some years before the crisis of the 1990s, with the title, "Religious Conscience in Contemporary Cuban Society: Characteristics and Structural Forms," demonstrated that after 30 years of official atheistic ideology, only 15% of the Cuban population could be considered nonbelievers. That same study also demonstrated that only 13-15% could be considered believers clearly belonging to a defined and existing religious group. A full 50% confessed a diffuse and pragmatic religiosity-dealing with necessities as they are presented in a "cross" of different religious groups. The rest, approximately 20%, expressed vacillations and doubts between belief and non-belief. According to some Cuban analysts, the weakness of investigations like that one is that they do not distinguish the social consequences of one form of religiosity from another. Cuba's population today is 11 million people, 20% under 15 years old.

8. This song from the 1990s, by Cuban singer-songwriter Carlos Varela, follows the "Black Tears" Cuban tradition and reflects well the subjective crisis of Cubans facing their unexpected economic crisis:
The churches talk about salvation
and the people pray
and ask for things in silence
like the fish
And in the face of Jesus
there's a single teardrop falling
Black tears
And parents don't want to talk about
the situation anymore
prisoners survive
accustomed to keeping quiet
like the fish
Although you have left me in abandonment
although all my illusions have now died
I cry without you knowing they're my tears
they are black tears
The news speaks of resignation
and the people swallow
and they look at the eyes
like the fish
And in the face of the Virgin
there's a single teardrop falling
Black tears
The youth speak of disillusionment
and in silence go to sea and far away
like the fish
And in the mother's face
there's a single teardrop falling
Black tears.


1. In September-October 1995, Cuban Communist Party militants studied a Central Committee document titled, "The Work of the Party in the Current Situation." It is the most recent public PCC text in which the current religious "rebirth" is analyzed, and says the following: "A situation that is frequently the object of attention by revolutionaries and the population in general is the observed increase in the practice of the diverse religious beliefs that exist in the country. In large measure that has been fundamentally determined by the impact of the social consequences of the special period on the consciousness of many people and is also tied to the more open expression of religious sentiments and conceptions in the wake of the policy approved in the IV Party Congress on the religious question and the modifications made to the Constitution which emphasize even more the freedom that the Revolution guarantees for its exercise. At the same time the use of some practices that have little to do with religious concepts themselves, aimed at attracting fleeting converts or those interested in obtaining occasional material or political advantages cannot be overlooked. The increase in religious practices, in which a tendency toward stability can currently be appreciated, does not constitute any problem for the Revolution, as long as it corresponds to the honest profession of any religious faith, whose principles are not only formally upheld but are consequentially observed in personal and social behavior, promoting love for one's neighbor, impartiality, protection of the weakest and most helpless, family unity, social justice, moral and civic virtues, love of and sacrifice for country. Those who do not act that way deny not only their people but their faith."
2. In their September 8, 1993, Message titled, "Love Always Hopes," the Cuban bishops suggest that, alongside the economic changes, "some irritating policies should be eradicated." They point out five:"1. The excluding and omnipresent character of the official ideology, which jointly identifies terms that cannot be univocal, such as: Homeland and socialism, State and Government, authority and power, legality and morality, Cuban and revolutionary. This centralist and overarching role of ideology produces a sensation of weariness toward the repeated orientations and slogans. 2. The limitations imposed not only on the exercise of certain liberties, which could be admissible in certain moments, but on liberty itself. A substantial change of this attitude would guarantee, among other things, the administration of an independent justice system, which would head us toward the consolidation of the full rule of law on a stable foundation.3. Excessive control by State Security which at times even goes as far as the strictly private life of individuals. This is the explanation for that fear of one does not know exactly what, but still feels, as though induced under a veil of unattainability. 4. The high number of prisoners for actions that could in some cases be de-penalized and in others reconsidered, which would free many who are serving sentences for economic, political or other similar motives. 5. Discrimination against philosophical, political ideas or religious creed, the effective elimination of which would favor the participation of all Cubans in the life of the country without distinction."
3. In 1993, with the country in full crisis, the Cuban bishops issued a kind of "judgment" on the Cuba's revolutionary process with their Message, "Love Always Hopes." In 1986, Cuban Catholic bishops had stated: "The Church does not want to present itself before civil society as one power facing another, or above the social structures as a kind of high tribunal that judges and enumerates the good and the bad. The Church is amidst its people as servant and teacher of the truth and justice in life, and aims to achieve it in the solidary search for the common good."
4. In the Cuban bishops' ad limina visit to the Pope in June 1994, Jaime Ortega, Archbishop of Havana, spoke to John Paul II in the name of the Cuban bishops in words that reflect an interpretation of the Cuban crisis from the perspective of the Tower of Babel. "In the spiritual order," he said, "the insufficiency of the material proposals and the perishability of the ideology that underpins them have shown above all the inconsequence of atheism and its inability to generate the tenacity and enthusiasm necessary for human beings in the great adventure of life, which cannot be founded on an absence, on a non-being, on the vacuum of God."
5. In their pastoral writings, the Cuban bishops have, on various occasions starting in the 1980s, taken up the problem of Cuban emigration by both legal and illegal means, including the phenomenon of the raft people. Their concern about and questioning of this exodus, on occasions massive, is a constant, in part because it reduces the ranks of active believers in the Church. For example, they said in their 1987 Christmas Message: "We invite Catholics to discard the easy or selfless motivations in any project to emigrate, since we consider emigration as such a solution that is in many cases incorrect and always painful for families and peoples. We are not speaking only as Pastors of a Church that has to announce the Gospel here, but also as Cubans who are speaking to Cubans to remind them that love of our Homeland sometimes requires our efforts and sacrifices. We Christians should also bear witness to this."
6. According to information from the Cuban Catholic Church, 240 priests, 31 deacons, 470 nuns and other female religious workers and 25 male religious workers were doing pastoral work in Cuba in February 1996. The priests were in charge of 650 churches across the island and some 200 houses where, for lack of a church, the liturgy was also celebrated. Of the 67 students studying in the Havana seminary, 48 were diocesan and 19 were from various orders: Jesuits, Dominicans, Carmelites, Paulists, Escolapians. Various women's orders have novitiates in Cuba for the formation of their aspirants.

7. Among the Cuban Catholic dioceses, Pinar del Río, which the Pope will not visit, seems to have the most structured pastoral plan, the greatest social projection and has been the most "daring" in the theme of the faith-religion relationship. The "Vitral" religious group is especially active and motivates controversies with the Cuban government; it was born out of the First Catholic Social Week, celebrated when the Cuban crisis began. The group has the capacity to pull together various social sectors including those that are not religious. It also reaches university, cultural and artistic groups with its various activities, trying to promote debate and reconciliation among the various tendencies that run through Cuban society today. It publishes a magazine also called Vitral. Actually, the Catholic Church publishes various magazines, all very similar, with religious and eclessiastical themes; of them Vitral has the clearest profile. The lay leader Dagoberto Valdés is very well known in Pinar del Río. Valdés is an agronomist somewhere over forty years old, who was linked in his earlier years to Latin American sectors that were part of liberation theology. He promotes a method of formation called "We are People" and "We are Society," which reaches peasant and professional men and women--all mixed together--in courses that last several months and use a popular education methodology to awaken in them the awareness that they should be individuals with a responsibility for social participation and not just objects of official paternalism. Naturally the sectors opposed to the government within Cuba and especially those monitoring Cuban reality from the United States are watching Pinar del Río's Vitral with extreme interest and expectation, which has accentuated governmental control over this group.

8. US intervention in the war between Cuba and Spain in 1895 and the presence and influence that people from the United States had in the first Republican years diversified the spectrum of beliefs on the island. Catholics perceived the new situation as adverse. In the ENEC document one reads: "For the church, US intervention constituted a source of difficulties: suppression of prayer in the schools, expulsion of nuns from working in the majority of state hospitals and charity centers, and the introduction of Protestant sects and Churches of US origin." Between the end of the 19th century and 1963, over 50 Protestant denominations were established in Cuba. The first to arrive (Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Methodists and Baptists) were known as "historical," "early" or "traditional." These mainline denominations came from the United States and their churches and services, their hymns and their theology, reflected the US style. They had prestigious schools, especially at the service of the middle classes. Like those of the Catholics, these schools were nationalized in 1961. The revolutionary process in some ways helped these early-arriving churches to gain independence from their mother churches in the United States. The denominations known as "latecomers" are those that belong to the Pentecostal current. They began to come to the island, also from the United States, in the 1930s, and particularly developed in the 1950s. Protestant Pentecostalism, in Cuba as in other places in the world, has points of contact with Catholic charismatism: a liturgy full of chanting, testimonies, speaking in tongues, cleansings and a fundamentalist interpretation of the bible. In the social sphere, they promote apolitical attitudes and do not link faith to social commitment.

9. Taking note of the scant presence or even absence of Catholic priests in the most impoverished rural zones of prerevolutionary Cuba and the particularities of the Protestants' practice, Fidel Castro referred to them as follows in the book, Fidel y la religión: "I always observed that the evangelical churches had propagated better in humble sectors of the population, like the Rule [of Ocha], and also observed in them a more militant practice of religion; I observed more discipline in the evangelical churches, within their conceptions, within their styles, their methods, their way of praying. They were more consequential with their religious practice. There weren't many, but the fact that one belonged to a given school, a given evangelical church--to one or another of the many that exist--was, in general, in line with their sentiments and their religious conceptions, much more than the Catholics; they were more disciplined." Evoking the first years of conflict between the new revolutionary government and the Catholic hierarchy, Fidel said: "Problems did not really arise with the evangelical sectors; on the contrary. In general, relations with them were always very good and easy. Within the evangelical churches, there were some with which, given their special characteristics, some problems with the revolution did arise, as with the Jehovah's Witnesses. But I have read that Jehovah's Witnesses usually have problems everywhere. They get into conflict with the national symbols, with the school, with health, with defense of the country, with many things, and in that sense we were especially sensitive."
10. The Baptist pastor Raúl Suárez, today a representative in the National Popular Power Assembly, describes the vision of Cuba's Protestants when the revolution began and the perspective of the fundamentalist Protestants who coexisted satisfactorily with official atheism:
"For the immense majority of Protestant Christians, religiosity as of 1959 was understood and lived in top-down and subjective terms, strongly indifferent to political, economic and social problems. The concept of God became pagan, and generally deist, with the difference that, instead of pushing him into a lost point of the universe, we enclosed God in the heart and the churches, without transcendence in the here and now of people's daily lives. We reduced the comprehension and practice of faith to a thing within ecclesiastical walls and turned the church into the house of God, where every Sunday we came together with Him. At the same time, the effort of official policy with respect to religion, churches and believers was to try to legitimize that pagan god. A revolution that proposed to liquidate private property nonetheless defined religion as a private question and took a series of steps to assure that it not transcend into the concrete life of society. It is interesting that both mental schemes legitimized themselves in the dogmatic spirit that inspired them. Fundamentalism felt very comfortable with all this and stated with no little pride: 'The only thing this government lacks is to be a believer. They concern themselves with material issues and thus we can dedicate ourselves completely to spiritual affairs.'"

11. Below is a fragment of the song "Voy a pedir pa'ti lo mismo que tú pa'mi" (I'm goin' ask for you the same's you for me) by Cuban composer Adalberto Alvarez, who expresses the style and syncretism of the Santería rites. It is cited in the interesting book of testimonies, Hablan paleros y santeros, by Tomás Fernández Robaini, published in 1994.

From Africa they came and among us stayed
all those warriors
that passed to my culture
Obataá, Las Mercedes
Ochún, la Caridad
Santa Bárbara, Changó
the Virgin of Regla is Yemayá
The ceremony is going to begin
we're going to make charity
The house is replete
and no more will fit
and all are wondering
what Elegguá will say
He opens the way
that is the truth
We're going to give him coconut
to see what he give us.

The people go out, the people come in
and all ask for what matters to them
I'm going to ask for good things for my mama
and tranquility for my family
that everybody on this earth get on well
and that the war end
There are people say they don't believe in noth'n
and go take counsel in the early morn
Don't be shamed, I'll ask for you
Don't ask for bad things that you'll regret
I'm goin' ask for you the same's you for me.

12. Fidel Castro has given very few clues on very few occasions as to his personal religiosity or lack of same. Here are two. In the days in 1985 when Frei Betto interviewed him on the subject of religion, Fidel made Betto a gift of a poster of the first years of the revolution on which he wrote this dedication: "He still hasn't achieved it, but if anyone can make a believer of me it's Frei Betto." And in an interview in mid-1996 with CBS news anchorman Dan Rather, Fidel said, "No, I don't pray. My prayers were very mechanical.... I recall that thing of Voltaire that says that man made God in his image and likeness. God ought to be much better than we are. I'm not going to bring any little children into the world to later condemn them to the inferno for some petty faults. I wouldn't permit so much suffering in this world. What for? Why? There's no full-blown, total explanation of the origin of the universe, the origin of matter. It is not known what happened, or even if time exists. We are faced with problems that are very difficult to comprehend, but all the things that have been turned into a body of religious doctrine do not persuade me." When Rather asked him what the essence of his political creed was and how he would like to be remembered, Fidel did not hesitate: "A socialist. Someone who wants a more just, more egalitarian, more honorable society, a better society. Like so many men who have wanted it throughout history, Christ among them."
13. Two things that happened in 1996 turned on the definitive green light for the Cuban government to finally invite John Paul II to visit the island. On October 18, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, President of the Pontifical Justice and Peace Commission, made some declarations, considered official Vatican statements, which in a far harsher style than is usual for him condemned the US blockade measures against Cuba as "unacceptable." Etchegaray explicitly criticized the Helms-Burton Law as an "extraterritorial and juridically debatable" measure. A week later, Cardinal Jean Louis Tauran, a kind of foreign relations minister for the Vatican, visited Cuba. While there he reiterated the Vatican's condemnation of the embargo against Cuba. "Isolation and blockades are not appropriate methods for international relations," said Tauran. "We do not like the policy of empires. We have always been faithful to the principles of international law, non-interference in internal affairs and solidarity among peoples." Tauran stated on that same occasion that the Vatican "will do all that is possible to help Cuba" surmount its crisis. The other thing that lit the green light was the cordial welcome John Paul II gave Fidel Castro in a private audience on November 19. During that visit, Fidel thanked the Vatican authorities for their position against the Helms-Burton Law.

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