Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews.
Meeting with Religious
Photo: Estudios Revolución
An open and sincere dialogue was held by the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, with members of the Council of Churches of Cuba and ecumenical leaders. The exchange became a space for gratitude, homage, faith, commitment, participation, learning, reflection and hope.
With them, Cuba will also continue to found. And just as Cuba will do, “the Cuban Church will also continue founding together with our people”, a certainty not only expressed by Joel Ortega Dopico, executive secretary of the Council of Churches of Cuba, but which in many ways marked the essence of more than a dozen interventions that nuanced the debate.
The President of the Republic summoned them to do and found together. It was a little more than three hours in which he was seen listening attentively to every word; taking notes again and again in his agenda; nodding; explaining doubts; inquiring about community projects that really contribute to the neighborhoods; opening ways to solve obstacles that hinder a better performance….
We can still improve and expand harmony, constantly building a lot of trust and the possibility of talking, discussing, debating, even if we do not always agree on the same thing, reflected the Head of State.
From the conviction that together it is possible to create and do more, he thanked everyone for taking the time to attend the meeting and express sincerely “what they feel”. It is tremendous -he said- their willingness to participate in the construction of our society “from all the experience they have and from all the contributions they make”.
“We are going to look for spaces in which you can contribute and participate, so that you can be with us in them and also so that you can teach us, because you have many things to teach, which have already been developed in all these years”, he ratified.
As part of the dialogue, necessary and contributing, the President thanked the prayers that, as those present told him, they make for him and his government team. In detail, he shared with them significant elements of the current situation of the country and the latest events.
A situation that he defined as extremely complex, and at the same time challenging; in the challenges there is also a charm, -he pointed out- and a way of seeing life to look for the capacity of response, encouragement, encouragement, and to go to a better moment, he trusted.
For that -he added- we have to continue multiplying everything that is efficient and contributive, what gives us harmony, usefulness and beauty, discarding what is inefficient, what hinders, what is bureaucratic, what is corrupt.
We need to reinforce the attention in the neighborhoods, and there we count on you. We know about the projects you have developed, the concept of popular education you have worked on, and we hope to be able to multiply your experiences and enrich everything we do with your participation, he emphasized.
In the meeting, which is the first of others to be held with directors of religious institutions and fraternal associations, as part of a permanent link with them that the country’s leadership has maintained during these years, the Head of State acknowledged the historical legacy of those who preceded him, whose path “we want to continue”.
He thanked them for their condemnation of the blockade in different scenarios and how they have defended Cuba’s position before their counterpart churches in the world. I believe that there is a coincidence between what you have proposed and what we want to do,” he said.
Photo: Estudios Revolución
He also spoke at length about the epidemic caused by the COVID-19 and how the country has been facing it for almost 17 months. The first concept, he assured, “has always been to save people’s lives, with whatever it takes…”
Challenges, future projects, shortages, changes in routines, solidarity and willingness to do, were deeply discussed during the day. From the respect for individual beliefs and dialogue, very useful ideas were born and more than one left with “assigned tasks”.
SERVE, PARTICIPATE, DO…
Serving the people and actively participating in the life of society and the Homeland have marked the course of the Council of Churches of Cuba, in its 80 years of foundation, Joel Ortega Dopico, its executive secretary, was heard to say proudly and firmly.
“Throughout these years of Revolution and throughout Cuba’s history, the Council and its predecessors have actively participated in the life of our society and our Homeland,” he evoked. Then, he listed some of the many scenarios in which they have also left their mark: the clandestine struggles in the Sierra; the literacy campaign; the actions for the return of Elián and the Five; the battles against the Bloqueo…..
With the latent emotion for the symbolic and transcendental exchange, he spoke to Díaz-Canel with the frankness of one who knows he is “taken into account”, and confided to him his expectation that the day of this August 6 marks a before and after in the strategy of the Cuban ecumenical movement with the leadership of our Revolution.
We have -he said- to go to the level of Frank País, to the level of Faustino Pérez, of those comrades who gave their lives, and here we are now, to reaffirm that we are also a continuity of their work.
With the certainty that there are many issues still to be addressed to truly achieve the transformation that the nation demands, the Executive Secretary of the Council of Churches of Cuba referred to the necessary self-criticism, the pending rectification, the profound review of methods and styles of work that clash with the will to serve the people, the bureaucracy, the obstacles and the insensitivity of some that are so damaging. These are realities, I trust, which unfortunately the church has not been able to escape either.
How can we ensure that the church and religion become more and more part of the processes of participation in the changes we are experiencing? He asked himself and in turn asked the audience, to gradually string together ideas that ratified the importance of “seeking ways of dialogue so as not to stigmatize positions. There are cracks that we have to heal together”.
“…is the church we want to be, to be a church for our people…”
“Brother President,” Carlos Ham Stanard, pastor of the Presbyterian-Reformed Church in Cuba, then told him, “here we are, as part of Cuba, to reaffirm our vocation of service, to continue in the dialogue, in the struggle, in the work, and we hope to continue in this process of dialogue, mutually enriching each other.”
Without pretending to boast about his actions, because they have only had the purpose of “being useful”, the also Rector of the Evangelical Theological Seminary of Matanzas, told how in the institution an extension of the pediatric hospital was enabled, where 1500 patients were attended, in 47 days of service: 900 children and 600 parents and companions.
Those were days of great concern,” he acknowledged, “but also of defense, of fighting for life, and of great satisfaction in being able to serve our people on this front, fighting for life.
Joel Suárez Rodés, executive coordinator of the Collegiate Coordination of the Martin Luther King Memorial Center, spoke about the need to summon and add so that everyone feels part of it; to understand that today’s society is not like the one of 20 years ago, that it is diverse, complex, and has a multiplicity of actors.
Photo: Estudios Revolución
We ask to be convened more, especially in relation to labor and social policies for the attention to vulnerability, he suggested to the First Secretary of the Central Committee. “It is necessary to create a wide corridor to save this Homeland… and it is up to the Party leadership to motivate it…”
Dialogue cannot be imposed, it has to be born from the territory, from the place where people are doing, not saying, he considered.
Díaz-Canel then spoke about granting participation to all, of integrating, of convening. That, he said, we are able to build it and we would be many more contributing, participating. He was joined by members of the Political Bureau Manuel Marrero Cruz and Roberto Morales Ojeda, Prime Minister and Secretary of Organization and Cadre Policy of the Central Committee, respectively; as well as Rogelio Polanco Fuentes, member of the Secretary of the Central Committee, and Caridad Diego Bello, head of the Office of Attention to Religious Affairs of the Central Committee.
First of all, the 15 participants in the meeting who took the floor spoke about their gratitude and considered it a privilege to be able to “meet with our authorities and deal with issues of common interest”.
Regarding the obstacles and bureaucracy that prevent the quick entry into the country of medicines and other supplies necessary for the work they carry out in the communities, they also commented to the Cuban President, who assured them that many of these issues would be resolved immediately. The decision to create an office within the Government to deal with issues related to religious institutions will contribute greatly to open roads and make solutions feasible.
A cornerstone of the interventions was also the need to consolidate the existing spaces for dialogue, not only to talk about “things that concern us, but also to present solutions”; that they become systematic spaces, not temporary, in which to give continuity to the issues and see the answers to the proposals.
With the church we have the duty to work for the unity of our people and we have done it from our messages, with our relatives, friends, people that we have seen that they are wrong, explained Lydia Aguiar Batista, vice president of the Council of Churches of Cuba and vice president of the Sovereign Grace Church.
To embrace, respect and take advantage of the diversity that defines today’s Cuba, called Dora Arce Valentin, pastor and moderator of the Presbyterian-Reformed Church. We cannot reject diversity, she insisted, we have to see that diversity as a gift, as something that enriches society.
That is the Cuba we want, a Cuba where its families are diverse, where they assemble in the way they can, that they want, that they know, (…) because that is how we want Cuban society to be, and in that sense we can be counted on.
Representatives of the Christian youth, “that present that builds the country and the world”, were also heard as a light. From their experiences, they also spoke of participation and the enormous challenge of feeling part of the construction of a better Cuba, in the most diverse scenarios.
“That the religious sector be present in the dialogues with the youth, because from our spirituality and our faith we also have a contribution to those dialogues”, requested to the Cuban President Dianet Martínez Valdés, secretary of the Student Christian Movement for Latin America.
It is up to us now to nurture that unity from this country that we are and to celebrate the diversity that we are. It is up to us, as a church, to be mediators, to be conciliators, said Kirenia Criado Pérez, pastor of Los Amigos Church.
“Cuba is the center of my life, but reconciliation is the center of my task, and I believe that today it is our turn to have reconciliation as the center of our task and we offer ourselves as a church, because of this experience we have lived, to be a space for reconciliation there in the neighborhood, there in the church, there in the smallest communities, to work in these spaces of reconciliation that are so important.”
The intimate moment of reflection then turned into a tribute in which President Diaz-Canel received a wooden cross, a plaque and a Bible from the hands of Rhode Gonzales and Raul Suarez, former presidents of the Council of Churches of Cuba. Similar gifts were also presented to the rest of the members of the presidency.
For the 80th anniversary of its foundation, a recognition was given to the Council of Churches of Cuba, which has historically maintained an attitude of respect, social participation and commitment to the Revolution. Signed by the President of the Republic, this honor was received by the Vice President of the Council of Churches of Cuba, Lydia Aguiar Batista.
In this memorable meeting, the President of the Republic also conferred the Second Degree Felix Varela Order to Pastor Raul Suarez Ramos, pastor emeritus of the Ebenezer Baptist Church of Marianao, protagonist of that historic meeting with Fidel in April 1990.
From the integrity and courage of his years, he was heard saying among emotions: “Raúl Suárez did not retire, he is in full jubilee, which means joy and happiness, which is what has given us this meeting and the next ones we will have”.
Likewise, said decoration was granted post mortem to the Very Reverend Pablo Odén Marichal Rodríguez, a man of light who did a lot for the unity in revolutionary Cuba.
“Dispose and count on what we have, for whatever you wish for the benefit of the nation”, Marcial Hernandez Salazar, president of the Free Evangelical Church, had said a short time before.
And for the benefit of the whole nation, those present then joined in a prayer for life, and prayed together, because from our diversity our many strengths are also born.