Saturday, April 7, 2012

A Personal and Political Dialog with the Church

My first Mass

By Jesús Arboleya Cervera
My first Mass-Jesús Arboleya CerveraHAVANA - Although I was baptized Jesús (for reasons that I was never curious enough to find out), my personal contacts with the Catholic Church have been scant.
My father was a mason-turned-agnostic and my mother did not practice any religion. My grandmothers worshiped the saints at home and although an aunt became a famous Santera, the syncretic rituals were not a common practice in the family.
I always studied in public schools, did not take first communion, was not married by the Church, did not baptize my daughters, and the closest I was to a confession was during self-criticism sessions within the Communist Party.
Obviously, I'm not a typical Cuban, generally close to religion, but my history demonstrates the disparate and sometimes conflicting influences in our ideological formation. However, this distance did not generate disinterest in Catholicism, or rejection towards people who practice this religion.
In fact, Catholicism is part of my own culture, I absorbed it in my neighborhood, in the study of my country's history, my tastes and traditions and, above all, in my social relationships.
To a degree, I am also a Catholic, although I do not believe in God and reject the institutional patterns that acknowledge the supposed infallibility of the Pope and promote ideas that I consider archaic, even potentially harmful to human welfare.
I find it paradoxical that a religion that had its origin in the struggle of the poor and proclaims itself as such – I'd like to think that that's why my parents named me Jesús – revels in luxury and ostentation to express itself and has a history of partnership with the exploiters.
If the Virgin of Charity had worn the cloak of gold and precious stones in which she's clothed today, she would have sunk hopelessly into the sea and never would have become the patroness of Cuba.
That cultural community was what impressed me the most when I attended my first Mass on March 28 at Revolution Square in Havana. I met people of all colors for whom the Virgin is Ochún, couples who displayed more love for each other than for “the Holy Father” and old communist friends who questioned the meaning of their presence in that act.
I also met a trio of devout practitioners who complained about the ignorance of the rest of the crowd during the liturgy, as well as young Catholics who obviously enjoyed proclaiming their belief in a climate of acceptance and respect. I recognized in the crowd some notorious “dissidents” and former leaders of the nation that no longer are on the public stage.
The truth is that I could not identify the pilgrims from Miami, maybe because they looked like everybody else or because, following the norms of Vatican protocol, they were placed in an area to which I had no access.
I do not think that the Pope's homily generated much passion among those present. Perhaps it was too doctrinaire in an environment that did not contribute to the meditation requested, but I guess that that was its job and those were its goals.
However, the Pope’s call to the rescue of human values ​​as a standard for social behavior is undoubtedly of vital importance and constitutes, by its very nature, a criticism of the current world order. Also in Cuba it is necessary to reinforce these ethical values ​​and helping to highlight them is one of the Catholic Church’s main contributions to the nation right now.
I cannot deny that my education and intellectual interests lead me to prioritize the understanding of the political role of the Catholic Church at various times in history, particularly in Cuban history. To deny this role is to ignore the history of mankind and ignore an essential ingredient of the formation of the Cuban nation and the country's political struggles.
Although earlier in Cuba, and currently in many places, the Catholic Church has promoted political parties and organizations, which implies a commitment to certain programs and specific alignments, this is not the case in Cuba today.
Which does not imply that the Church does not have its own political interests and attempts to influence the direction of government structures and the rest of society in that regard, with the addition that the Catholic Church worldwide is a state and behaves as one.
The challenge for the Cuban state and the Catholic Church itself is to reconcile these interests in an inclusive national project, where they are not the only actors.
Nowhere has the Catholic Church, as an institution and as a state, proclaimed to be an ally of socialism, and in Cuba it certainly isn’t. In fact, for many years, it declared itself the state’s enemy and was an active participant in a fierce battle, whose aftermath remains alive on both sides. The most that can be said is that good relations and a constructive dialogue now exist between the parties.
This is no minor achievement. So much so, that probably only in Cuba there is a formal dialogue between Marxists and Christians. However, we continue talking about two divergent positions, from both the doctrinal point of view, and their political views. The change in mindset does not lie in ignoring this reality but in assuming it and finding points of reconciliation in a context where the differences are given.
I think that, rather than a limitation, this divergence conveys the importance of dialogue between the State and the Catholic Church in Cuba. Only Miami schizophrenics can say that the Church is an accomplice of the Cuban government. The legitimacy of this dialogue lies precisely in the fact that they are opponents duly accredited as such.
If the Cuban government can dialogue with the Catholic Church and find ways to coexist, it can do the same with anyone who does not undermine the basic principles of national sovereignty. This is something that was stressed by both President Raúl Castro and the Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba, Msgr. Dionisio Garcia.
This concurrence is capital, because it reflects both the essence of the Cuban Revolution and the transformations that have taken place in the composition of the Catholic Church in this country. I think that, for the first time since the 18th Century, when it ceased to be a Spanish-rooted institution, the Catholic Church in Cuba can be justly considered Cuban.
Cuban are most of its authorities and priests and therefore Cuban are their minds, their culture and national aspirations, which facilitates understanding, regardless of differences.
Such a dialogue could be very broad, because it will be developed not only between the parties but also inside themselves and the rest of society, including the émigrés, opening spaces for participation in which all Cubans would be included, thus channeling a national consultation process that will be essential for the future of the nation. From this equation would be excluded only those who are not patriots, easily identifiable by their intentions, practices and subordination.
For these reasons I attended my first Mass on March 28. Some may say that that doesn’t count because I was not summoned by my faith in God, or that it was not a traditional Mass, but perhaps that was the reason for its appeal. Also I did not start badly; the Pope officiated, and I watched the service in the company of my people, who have the right to believe or disbelieve in whatever deities they please, yet they’d rather do it together.

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