Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The light in the darkness: Jaime Ortega

Since John Paul II opened the door to Christmas in Cuba, the atmosphere between the Communist government and the Catholic Church had been more relaxed with a few incidents and up and downs. This year, the Catholic Cardinal Jaime Ortega will read a Christmas message on state television for the second straight year, a small sign in a relationship riddles with controversy.Arzobispado de La Habana

After 1959, the Catholic Church started a period of confrontation with Fidel Castro’s regime marked with subtle criticism turned into a totally open war with the high ranked Catholics when Castro announced the Socialist tendency of the Revolution. Since then, being a catholic in Cuba was a stigma that caused the exodus of attendants to mass, and the isolation of an important group from our society. In the highest moment of that confrontation, Castro expelled all the Spanish Bishops from Cuba, in 1961, in an act of arrogance and intolerance, not too strange to his standards.

In 1969, with the justification that the celebrations of Christmas interfered with the 10 million sugar cane harvest, the same Castro abolished it. Christmas made its come back during the visit of John Paul II to Cuba, in 1998. Through all those years, the relationships between both institutions were marked by hostility and suspicions.

Since John Paul II we are a bit more free in a sort of way, and even when the act of enter to a church could be interpreted as suspicious, the truth is the Catholic Church has been rebuilding its trust with the Cuban society and restoring peace in their parishioners.

Framed it in this context, we can judge that our Cardinal Jaime Ortega has been trying to gain ground between a society completely divided and polarized. That battle has been riddled with misunderstanding within Cuba and abroad, where our Diaspora is settled, basically, in Miami.

In Cuba, Cardinal Ortega passed through periods of really frontal confrontations when the Conference of Catholic Bishops, in 1991, sent a harsh and incisive letter against the Communist government, which was read in every church in Sunday mass.

In the other hand, in Miami, he has been slashed out for being too timid to criticized Castro, and being extremely benevolent with the regime. I could agree with some of his critics, but the truth is there is nothing easy when it comes to deal with the Cuban government. They even hadn’t been shy to throw their crowds inside the church and create tensions between the Catholic Church and other religious denominations in Cuba.

That is why, when I read the message delivered last Saturday to the people of Cuba by Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino for Christmas, I tried to be more comprehensible and open. But at the end, still it is too bland and gentle to my taste.

There are only two moments to highlights. At the beginnings, when he mentions the first verses of The Gospel of Saint John the Evangelist: “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has never put it out.”

It is almost slashing out, gloomily, to the government and the times when the Catholic Church and its people were pulling out of their premises.

And the last part of the message, not for what he said but what he didn’t even mention. And I want to quote him:

“The families are happier this year by receiving their relatives from US when they couldn’t do it before.”

He didn’t mention who lift the ban (the Obama’s Administration), he didn’t mention also who keep some other restrictions (Castro’s government), but you can read between lines that Cardinal Ortega is pointing out more than he is saying.

It is pretty sad, anyway, than even such high authority in Cuba is still timid when it comes to speak out about our day by day tragedy. He didn’t mention the political detainees in Cuba. He didn’t mention the repression against our civil society registered a few days ago. He didn’t mention the gloomy threat threw last Sunday by Castro in the National Assembly against the same civil society.

At the end, we can only congratulate our Cardinal in succeed to reach a deal with Castro’s government to allow broadcast not only his Christmas Message, but also the Christmas concert held in our Cathedral last week.

Personally, I just want to add the joy I felt the first time I could enter our church in the eve of December 24, 1998, without the nervous tingling in my eye, a signal that accompanied me every time I entered my church for so many years.

It was joy. It was happiness. It was peace. I hope that feeling remains in Cuba forever.