By Mauricio Vicent
Havana – July 19, 2009
A CubaNews translation.
Edited by Walter Lippmann.
Last New Year’s Eve, Spanish priests Isidro Hoyos, Mariano Arroyo and Eduardo de la Fuente had dinner together in the San Martin de Porres parish, in the workers’ neighborhood of Alamar, east of the Cuban capital. “A simple meal: vegetable soup, some chicken, nougat, and Spanish cider to celebrate”, remembers Isidro. Sharing a dinner on New Year’s Eve, he explains, “had become a tradition… “.
The three priests had been friends for years and the three were in Havana because of their religious vocation, but it was Mariano who put the idea of coming to Cuba in their heads. Mariano Arroyo Merino was the first one to arrive on January 19, 1997. Then Isidro Hoyos, in December 2000. Both were from Cantabria and knew each other since they were young.
Mariano had been a missionary in Chile. For 20 years he lived in that country, always in contact with the poorest [of the people]. Hoyos even became a lawyer for the Workers’ Commissions. He was a worker and a committed priest, for that reason when he arrived in Cuba he found it proper to take charge of the small parish of Alamar, a neighborhood built by the revolution in the ‘70s as the home of the New Man, and therefore without a church.
Eduardo de la Fuente began traveling to the island to substitute for Mariano and Isidro when they left on vacation. He did this for seven or eight years, until in 2006 he decided to stay permanently.
Eduardo, 61 years old, had a mysterious and violent death on February 13. He was found on a highway on the outskirts of Havana, stabbed and strangled. It caused a shock wave in the ecclesiastical world and it especially affected Mariano, who was also murdered later.
Mariano Arroyo was a Philosophy and Theology major from the Comillas Papal University, and a philosophy and literature graduate of the University of Madrid. He was not only a wise man; he was also “a humble, good and venturesome person”, according to those who knew him. “Father Mariano was very dear to us here, nobody had any grudge against him”, said one of the neighbors, who laments his death today in Regla, a neighborhood of Havana.
First, he was a parish priest at the Our Lady of Pilar church in the municipality of Cerro, from which he also assisted the congregation of Alamar. On occasions he made 20 kilometer trips there by bicycle and celebrated mass at people’s homes. In December 2004, Mariano took charge of the parsonage and the parish of the National Sanctuary of Our Lady of Regla, on the other side of the Havana bay. He immediately stood out.
Regla is a parish with special characteristics because its Virgin is one of the most worshiped among the Afro-Cuban cults. The Virgin of Regla symbolizes the goddess Yemayá in these cults, ruler of the waters and the sea, the fundamental source of life. Mariano didn’t repudiate these beliefs, but rather he studied them thoroughly and tried to understand them. Many bishops invited him to their dioceses to give lectures on this subject. “Mariano was very learned and very understanding and he was valued more and more in the Cuban Church”, Isidro affirms.
On the dawn of last July 13th, exactly five months after the murder of Eduardo de la Fuente, somebody entered the parochial house where Mariano lived in Regla. Before dawn, a neighbor saw smoke coming out of the priest’s room and called for help. The one who entered to help him found the priest handcuffed, gagged, and with burns in the soles of his feet and hands, hit on the head and knifed.
The crime, or rather, the crimes against two priests in such a short space of time and on the same day of the month February 13 and July 13 , the fact that they were friends and that both were victims of violent attacks, generated numerous rumors. Mainly because in Cuba there is no crime chronicle and news is spread from mouth to ear. Some thought that the two crimes could be connected.
Isidro Hoyos himself admitted, shortly after hearing of Arroyo’s death, that he was afraid. “I am not superstitious, but yesterday was exactly five months after Eduardo’s death, and it seems the procedure is the same: torture, savagery… “.
And, he added, still excited: “The first one, the second… what is behind this? Who are they? What are they looking for? This is something the people in charge of the investigations need to clarify. Are they some kind of mafia? I don’t know “. But, he warned himself: “There are not two, without three.”
The following day in Spain, Agustín Arroyo, brother of the murdered priest, stated that “to steal it is not necessary to kill”. And, he suggested other possible causes: “In Cuba, priests are a nuisance. My brother was very much loved in the community, he had influence over the people and maybe that caused a certain mistrust.”
The Church had to take a stand on this and Cardinal Jaime Ortega himself discarded such arguments last Friday in the homily he gave during the Exequial Mass for Father Mariano Arroyo, denying any “anti-religious or anti-Spanish significance.”
In truth, it was the mystery and the secrecy surrounding the investigation of the first death, that of Eduardo de la Fuente, which fueled speculation. Neither the Church nor Spanish authorities revealed the results of the police investigation, even though they had conclusions, detainees and confessed perpetrators.
If truth be told, Father de la Fuente died at the hands of another man who was his significant other, and to whom the priest had passed himself off as a foreign CEO. This is why, in the Friday homily, the cardinal said that in his case, “the criminals ignored that they had killed a priest”. Police sources informed the Church and the [Spanish] Embassy of what had happened. They also informed them that the perpetrator and his accomplices had been captured and that because it was such a delicate matter they had treated it with the utmost discretion.
Priest Mariano Arroyo’s death was absolutely different. The motive of the crime was robbery, something more and more frequent on the island. The safe that Arroyo had in the house, which apparently had things of little value, was found open. Sources at the Church indicated that the murderer, already in custody, was the guardian of the parish, who acted in complicity with others.
In the homily in memory of Mariano Arroyo, Cardinal Jaime Ortega remembered the priest’s words explaining why he remained in the country: “The Cuban people have a warmth, a sympathy toward the Church and toward the priest in his search for God that, although they don’t know almost anything of religion, shows an interest and an avidity that is enthusiastic”. On Friday, people filled the cathedral of Havana and said goodbye to Mariano Arroyo with tears in their eyes and songs of love.
[At noon yesterday the remains of Arroyo arrived at the Madrid airport. The funeral one will take place this afternoon at Cabezón de la Sal (Cantabria)].