The Church Confronts Socialism In Cuba

I want to consider briefly the situation of the Church in Cuba since Castro's forces entered Havana on January 8, 1959. Initial relations between Castro and the Church were very cordial, but estrangement soon set in. By February of 1960 Castro was saying that anyone opposed to communism was also opposed to the revolution. The Church began to take a stance openly against the government, and this trend culminated in a statement by the Cupan episcopate on August 7, 1960: "Let no one ask us Gatholics to silence our opposition to such doctrines out of afalse sense of civilloyalty. We cannot agree to that without; betraying our deepest principIes, which are opposed to materialistic and atheistic communism. The vast majority of the Cuban people are Catholic, and only by deceit can they be won over to a communist regime." Open persecution then began. By 1970 the number of nuns in Cuba had dropped from 1200

to 200, the number of diocesan priests from 745 to 230. For almost ten years it was a Church of silence.

Then Bishop Cesare Zacchi, who had long experience in socialist countries, was appointed Apostolic Nuncio to Cuba. He made it clear that another attitude was possible. The Church changed its stance, and subsequently the government did also. The prime minister of Cuba would admit that an entirely new situation was at hand: "We are faced with a paradox of history. When we see many priests becoming a force for revolution, how can we resign ourselves to seeing Marxist sectors infected with an ecclesiastical kind of conservatism?" The whole situation would have been unthinkable a few short years before. The attitude of the Church began to change, particularly after Medellin.

On April 10, 1969, the Cuban episcopate issued a statement in which it denounced the economic blockade of Cuba: "In the interests of our people and in service to the poor, faithful to the mandate of Jesus Christ and the commitments made at the Medellin Conference, we denounce the injustice of this blockade. For it causes a great increase in unnecessary suffering, and greatly impedes the quest for development." This message marked the start of a new phase in which the problem of contemporary atheism was faced directly. A statement of September 3, 1969, explored the issue in concrete terms: "In the betterment of the whole man and of all mankind there is' an enormous area of shared commitment between people of good will, be they atheists or believers." It noted the critical importance of every moment in history: "In this hour, as in every hour, we must be wise enough to detect the presence of God's kingdom in the positive features of the critical situation through which we are living."

The thought of the Cuban episcopate is crystal clear. Their words reveal a true prophetic sense and a vital faith. The Church of Cuba is going through a crisis and facing up to it; it will not have to face that crisis in some future century. If one faces u p to the crisis of today, he will be over the worst when tomorrow comes.

Here I cannot review the older revolution which took place in Mexico and the attitude of Christians during it. But I do want to say something about Chile, even though I must be very brief and overlook recent happenings. The important point to note here is that the Church did not set itself up in adamant opposition to the socialist government of Allende and the Popular Front. The episcopate continued the process of dialogue to see where and how things would go. Moreover, substantial groups of Christians participated in the Popular Front coalition.

In this respect Chileans have demonstrated much more maturity than other Christians when it comes to politics. In 1936 a group of Christians left the Conservative Party to form the Christian Democratic Party. Members of the latter left to form MAPU [Movimiento de Acción Popular U nido, United Movement for Peoples' Action], a Marxist party composed of Christians, which took part in the Popular Front. And some members of MAPU left that party to form MIC [Movimiento Izquierdista Cristiano, Movement of the Christian Left], a leftist but non-Marxist party of Christian socialists. I think this distinction between a Marxist party made up of Christians and a non- Marxist party of Christian socialists will be most important in the immediate future of Latin America.

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