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    Cuba still ‘very far from a normal pastoral situation’ after papal visit
    By Kevin J. Jones, CNA/EWTN News
    10/11/2015 Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

    Pope Francis warmly received during Cuban visit, in spite of heavy
    workload that remains

    After Pope Francis’ visit as a “missionary of mercy,” Cuba is now in a
    prime moment to move forward in its relationship with the Church and
    work for the common good, said a representative of an aid group that
    works in the country.

    Havana, Cuba (CNA/EWTN News) – “What he brought them above all was his
    message of the ‘logic of love’ of Jesus – a love of selfless service to
    our fellow men, a love that is capable of transforming hearts with a
    glance of mercy, a love that is active, goes out and builds bridges, a
    love that is revealed in a special way in family life,” said Ulrich Kny,
    head of the Latin American section for Aid to the Church In Need.

    Kny is responsible for the Germany-based international Catholic
    charity’s projects in Cuba. He was in Cuba for the Sept. 19-22 papal visit.

    Kny recounted that the Pope had exhorted Cubans to “live the revolution
    of tenderness like Mary, the Mother of Mercy.” The pontiff also
    encouraged Cubans to establish friendships that seek the common good
    despite their differences.

    The Pope’s success in mediating closer diplomatic relations between the
    U.S. and Cuba had already generated enthusiasm among Cubans, Kny told
    CNA Oct. 6.

    “For most Cubans he had given new hope of an imminent end to the U.S.
    economic embargo. Consequently, as soon as he arrived in Havana, he was
    jubilantly welcomed by tens of thousands of flag-waving Cubans.”

    Despite the small percentage of active Catholics in Cuba, the papal
    visit dominated media coverage. Cuban state media televised live
    broadcasts of papal events and documentaries about the Pope.

    Kny believes the Pope’s “gestures of openness, warm-heartedness, and
    humanity” touched the hearts of all Cubans. He cited the Pope’s manner
    of approaching people and giving total attention to those who met him
    personally.

    Despite the difficulties facing the Church in Cuba, the Church’s efforts
    to promote the well-being of the Cuban people is being recognized by the
    government, Kny said. “More and more of her activities are at least
    being tolerated.”

    “The Church in Cuba has learned over decades to survive in an atheist
    environment. She has now emerged from the catacombs – despite all the
    opposition and difficulties – has become an active force in society, and
    has earned for herself great respect in all levels of Cuban society. The
    Church in Cuba can today offer the universal Church her own experience
    in dialogue with a society that for the most part has no knowledge of God.”

    Kny has been particularly impressed by the creativity of the bishops,
    priests, religious and laity who are able to “slowly but steadily expand
    the limited room for maneuver allowed them in their work of evangelization.”

    The visit of Benedict XVI in 2012 brought the re-establishment of Good
    Friday as a public holiday, but did not yield much substance improvement
    in the government’s stance toward the Church. Kny hopes that Pope
    Francis’ visit will mean the Church “will really be granted more room to
    develop.”

    The Cuban government officially professes to respect religious freedom,
    but in practice the Catholic Church is still “very far from a normal
    pastoral situation,” according to Kny. The Church must seek official
    permission for all events or celebrations outside church walls, a
    difficult process that is “fraught with chicanery.”

    Ahead of the papal visit, organizers had to wait until the last minute
    for official permission for the preparatory program for the Pope’s
    meeting with young people in Havana. Many dioceses had to fight for
    enough places on planes and trains for pilgrims who wanted to travel to
    the three papal Masses.

    Other major problems include insufficient access to communications media
    and the lack of permission to import vehicles for pastoral work. Church
    construction also faces large obstacles.

    With few exceptions, “the Catholic Church is again and again not granted
    permission to build new churches, whereas Protestant groups and sects
    such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses have been allowed to build more and more
    temples in recent years.”

    “Yet despite all the difficulties, it is noticeable that the Catholic
    Church is becoming an ever more important player within Cuban society,”
    Kny affirmed.

    He encouraged prayers for Cuba and efforts to strengthen support for the
    Church so that she can overcome financial obstacles and reach her full
    potential for evangelization. This will help the Church give Cubans the
    opportunity for “a personal encounter with Jesus Christ.”

    He said the time after Pope Francis’ visit is a “very favorable moment”
    for this support.

    At the same time, he cautioned, the Church in Cuba lacks the human,
    material, and logistical resources to strengthen and deepen the faith of
    the Cuban people, decades after the communist revolution.

    “The hunger for God is enormous, yet many Cubans have only a very
    sketchy knowledge of their faith. The task of deepening this knowledge,
    by means of an extensive catechetical program and through the experience
    of a personal encounter with the living Christ, represents an enormous
    challenge for the Church in Cuba and one for which she simply has too
    few pastoral workers available,” Kny told CNA.

    Young Catholic laity have few prospects and tend to emigrate, meaning it
    is very hard to guarantee continuity in lay formation, he said. The
    failures of Cuba’s transportation system and high fuel costs also limit
    Catholic gatherings. Church vehicles are antiquated and in constant need
    of repair, which hinders the capacity for pastoral visits.

    While the Church is reacquiring properties confiscated after the
    communist revolution, these require costly restoration work when
    building materials and money are in short supply, he continued. Securing
    official permissions for repair work is again a drawn-out process.

    For Kny, the greater problems for Cuba include “moral deformation.” Not
    only is abortion widely practiced, but also there is a general absence
    of Christian values from education, which is run by a state monopoly.

    The country is continuing to struggle economically since the collapse of
    the Soviet Union, Cuba’s main economic partner. Cubans also face drastic
    food rationing. People are often dependent on financial support from
    relatives abroad, they buy stolen goods on the black market, or even
    feel forced to steal state property.

    They describe this practice using the Spanish word “resolver,” which
    roughly means, “to find a solution.”

    “This kind of basic attitude, which is of course contrary to Christian
    moral values, is one that no one can blame the Cubans for, given the
    current situation,” Kny said. “Yet for the future it harbors great
    dangers, for it is another thing that contributes ultimately to a
    thoroughly corrupt society.”

    Recent changes in U.S.-Cuban relations have helped Cubans strengthen
    their connections with relatives in the U.S. Kny reported that many
    people gather at newly established internet hotspots to surf on the
    internet or to chat and e-mail their U.S. relatives.

    “Most of these gadgets and their expensive access codes are paid for by
    their relatives abroad,” he said.

    The Cuban government has long been controversial because of its actions
    against its own people, especially political dissidents. Catholic human
    rights advocates and others are frequently detained.

    However, Kny hoped for a way forward.

    “For all the justified criticism of the human rights abuses and the
    restriction of the freedoms of the Cuban people, we should avoid any
    kind of polemics and confrontation,” he recommended. “The Cuban
    leadership has realized, thank God, that the Church is not interested in
    political opposition but in the welfare of the Cuban people.”

    He said the Church does not restrict herself to denouncing injustice.
    Rather, she seeks dialogue with the government and with society while
    “doing everything possible to introduce Christian values and convey to
    the Cuban people a hope that unites and that offers life and future.”

    “I believe that the Church in Cuba is on the right path here.”

    Source: Cuba still ‘very far from a normal pastoral situation’ after
    papal visit – Living Faith – Home & Family – News – Catholic Online –
    www.catholic.org/news/hf/faith/story.php?id=64671

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