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Posted February 01, 2006 by Cubana in Castro's Cuba

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By Agostino Bono | CNS

The Cuban church faces the challenge of rebuilding human values in a society that is falling apart economically and ethically, said Msgr. Jose Perez Riera, associate general secretary of the Cuban bishops’ conference.

After more than four decades of communist rule people have lost respect for telling the truth, for personal responsibility and for their human feelings, he said.

The government, instead of helping people achieve the material means to live in dignity, “proposes living in sacrifice,” said Msgr. Perez in a Jan. 23 speech at Jesuit-run Georgetown University in Washington.

The church official said it was impossible to predict what will happen in Cuba after the death of 79-year-old President Fidel Castro, who has led the country since his successful 1959 revolution.

“It is difficult to see right now how changes will take place, but change will happen,” he said.

The main role for the church in a transition period will be—as it is now—to restore human values and promote reconciliation among Cubans inside and outside of the Caribbean nation, he said.

The church has to help morally reconstruct a society “where a youth has to lie so that he doesn’t have problems in school” and “where a worker has to steal paper from the mill where he works so he can trade it for soap,” he added.

This task is in addition to the church’s evangelization work among people who are historically Christian but ignorant of their religion because of decades of government-supported atheism and restrictions on church life, he said.

Msgr. Perez told the story of a bishop who went into the countryside to distribute crosses as an evangelization tool. But the crosses did not have the figure of Christ on them, he said.

“A 50-year-old man returned the cross saying, ‘I want one with the doll on it,’” said Msgr. Perez.

At the same time, Cubans have a strong faith with Catholic roots, he said.
About 85 percent of the population of 11 million identify in some way with the church, but only 5 percent of the population attends weekly Mass, he said.

Regarding current church-state relations, Msgr. Perez said that the church has to maintain a balance between those who want it to become an opposition party and those who want it to become a government ally.

Right now there is “a subtle fight against the church” led by the Communist Party’s religious affairs office, he said.

The office wants to exercise control over the church and treats church-state problems as confrontations, he said.

“We should be dialogue partners trying to resolve problems and seeking common ground,” he said.

Among the problems Msgr. Perez cited are the need to get government approval to build new churches or to repair old ones, the monitoring of priests’ homilies by government agents and the lack of church access to the government-controlled media.

The lack of permission to build new churches has given rise to “prayer houses,” private homes where the residents give permission several times a month for a priest or trained lay person to come and conduct prayer meetings and religious education classes, he said.

But the government may be trying to control these prayer houses by requiring them to register, said Msgr. Perez.

There is no law yet but the registration idea is being discussed, he said.

The prayer houses “are an important sign of the church’s vitality,” said Msgr. Perez. “We are trying to protect them.”

Pope John Paul II’s 1998 visit to Cuba was the catalyst for the increased vitality of church life, he said.

After the pope’s visit, there was an immediate rise in the number of people going to church, being baptized and becoming interested in church life, he said.

In the past few years, this has leveled off, he said.

Economically, the deteriorating situation can be seen by the growing number of parish soup kitchens which provide meals to the elderly and the sick, he said.

The Havana parish where he lives feeds 100 elderly people lacking the economic means to feed themselves regularly, he added.

  1. Follow up post #1 added on February 01, 2006 by geecam619

    I am not Cuban and I have not affiliation to any political party inside or outside of Cubs.  My response to this post if purely for meaningful dialogue, in particular, the student population.  I have read this arcticle and have a couple of questions:

    1.  How much is the Castro government to blame (it at all) for the lack of supplies on the island?  Can it not be said that the American embargo is what prevents the ordinary Cuban citizen from having basic supplies….....

    2.  Is there anything (official or unofficial) that prevents the ordinary Cuban citizen from embracing the Church or attending mass?

    3. 85 % of 11,000,000 people identify with the church is some way, yet, 5% percent of the population attend weekly mass, in terms of demographics, How many churhes are there in Cuba? Are the Churches spread out troughout the country, or, is there a heavy concentraion of churches in one area, or is there an equal distribution of churches that parrell the demand for the church?

    4. Is there anything preventing Cuban-Americans Churches from assisting in the building of more churches?  Finally, can cuban-americans go back to Cuba and assist in the country?  And if anyone is going to answer any of these questions, please keep in mind question 1.  Also, be advised that this post is purely for educational purposes, meaningful and mature dialogue only, it it would be greatly appreciated!!       

  2. Follow up post #2 added on February 01, 2006 by bernie with 199 total posts

    This guy Perez is talking from Georgetown university in Washington D>C.  What is wrong with this guy that he can"t see in his own backyard, In the USA human values are at least 100 times worse than Cuba’.  The murder rate in the USA, stock manipulation Tyco, Enron, World com. Vote fixing, over 2,000,000 people in prison, largest prison population in the world, fighting the war in Iraq killing more women and children then soldiers.  This guy Perez has a chicken hearthe should be talking about his own backyard.

  3. Follow up post #3 added on February 02, 2006 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    1. lack of supplies is partly due to US Embargo but remember no other country has any Embargo or even sanctions against Cuba at this time. So, lack of supplies mostly falls on the business, political and economic policies of the Castro government.

    2. I don’t think Church is promoted but communism has never embraced the Church.

    3. You say 85% identify with church in some way. I would like to see where you got that number. I have never heard that. If you include Santeria then maybe but Catholic religion is a small segment in Cuba.

    4. Resources prevent the construction of more churches. People have a tough time living day to day.

    Cuban American exiles can only go back to Cuba to visit immediate family members ONCE every three years and that restriction is in place due to the Bush Administration. Cuba welcomes everyone who does not have a political agenda.

    Good luck. Search the Havana Journal for keywords that interest you to find more articles and information.

    Cuba consulting services

  4. Follow up post #4 added on February 02, 2006 by jesusp with 246 total posts

    I propose that bishop Perez Riera talk to Mr. Bush regarding “respect for telling the truth”.

  5. Follow up post #5 added on February 11, 2006 by Gabriel

    To the publisher:

    Lack of supplies are Partly Due to the US Embargo????  A few years ago Senator Jesse Helms proposed a bill that was passed (If I remember correctly).  The bill said that any country who does business with Cuba faces some sort of economic sanctions from the US against that country.  if this law is one of those laws that are on the books but are not enforced that would be one thing, where is the data that supports the claim that its Castro’s policies that prevent economic growth….........  This guy is starving for cash, he will gladly take the Euro over the american dollar, the Euro is worth more….... So what you are saying is not logical…...............

    Second, Santeria?????? Like I said earlier, I am not Cuban and have no political affiliation one way or the other.  I am latino however and this observation is troubling.  Basically, what you are saying is that almost all Cubans practice witchcraft , that there is an inherent mysticisim with Santeria and the ordinary Cuban citizen, I know many Cubans in the US and never has this been said…... In fact, it has been the opposite.  Also, when you factor in all of the doctors, teachers, lawyers, engineers, and overall level of education in Cuba, which is many times superior than the educational system in the US, what you are saying is inconsistent.  There is Santeria in many countries but 85% of the population?  I don’t buy that…..........

    Third, thank you for your input Bernie.  Look forward to continuing his dialogue with anyone.  God bless all…........

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