HAVANA – Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega said that the dialogue with President Raul Castro’s government remains open, that it affects all areas of national life including the process of economic reforms on the island, and that the Catholic Church has a “new relationship” with the state and the people.
In a statement Friday to reporters, Ortega also announced that Pope Benedict XVI has confirmed him as archbishop of Havana (he recently presented his resignation as canon law requires upon reaching age 75) and commented that “the door is not closed” on the possibility of a future papal visit to the communist-ruled island.
Cuba’s Catholic primate said the dialogue continues with the Cuban government that began last year to discuss the fate of the island’s political prisoners, though that chapter was closed when the process of freeing them was considered completed.
“There is always a dialogue about the role of the church with its pastoral activities and about the life of the nation under the economic changes planned for Cuba, changes that society is waiting for, that every Cuban hopes for and that the church has also encouraged, supported and wished for,” the cardinal said.
About these changes and the plan of economic reforms promoted by President Raul Castro, Ortega admitted that they could “go a little faster,” but said that the important thing is to aim for “sustained” adjustments and that they be “expanded” in the future and not restricted.
“It’s good that nothing goes back to what it was before but that every step leads to a new opening – that is my hope and my belief,” he said.
This October marks one year since the new regulations went into effect expanding self-employment on the island as part of President Raul Castro’s plan to “modernize” the socialist model.
Unlike the temporary character and ideological stigmatization that self-employment had in the 1990s, private employment is now encouraged in a wider range of activities and, more importantly, allows individuals to hire workers, which in turn has led to the rise of small businesses.
Over the last year the government granted some 190,000 new licenses for small businesses to make up for the drastic cuts in public workforces planned by Gen. Castro to trim inflated state payrolls.
Cardinal Ortega said that in Cuba the Catholic Church is in the process of “a new relationship, not only church-state but also between the church and the Cuban people.”
“The old relationship is being renewed and that is made possible thanks to the new climate that we also breathe in our pastoral affairs,” he said.
As for his continuing as head of the Archdiocese of Havana, he said it was an “honor” that the pope has confirmed him in the post, and explained that his work remains unchanged because there is no new mandate.
Asked if Benedict XVI will visit Cuba, he said “the door is not closed” on that possibility.
“It is neither affirmed nor announced, but a ‘no’ has never been said about such a trip,” he said.
Ortega recalled that he saw the pope in Rome last August while on a pilgrimage with a group of Cuban priests and laity, and that they asked the pontiff about the possibility of his visiting Cuba, to which Benedict XVI replied “If God wills it, if God wills it...”
Ortega made his statement after presenting in Havana several prizes awarded by the Catholic magazine Palabra Nueva.