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 CNS Story:

MIAMI-CUBA Nov-10-2010 (950 words) With photos. xxxn

Miami meeting fosters unity among Cuban Catholics in US and homeland

By Ana Rodriguez-Soto
Catholic News Service

MIAMI (CNS) -- Their experiences over the past 51 years may be different, but the Cuban Catholic Church is one and the Cuban people are one, regardless of which side of the Florida Straits they live in.

That was the message being repeated Nov. 8-11 as a delegation of clergy, religious and laity from Cuba took part in a four-day meeting with a delegation of clergy, religious and laity from the Cuban diaspora.

Those meetings have been going on since 1997, said Bishop Arturo Gonzalez of Santa Clara, Cuba, who as head of the Cuban bishops' Commission on Human Mobility and Commission on the Family, led the 15-member delegation to the United States.

At a news conference Nov. 8, Bishop Gonzalez stressed that the annual meetings are aimed at "discovering the ties that bind" Cuban Catholics in every part of the world.

Quoting from the Gospel of John, "that all may be one," he expressed the hope that Cubans, regardless of where they live, "may be united in what is essential."

"We want to share our experiences ... our worries and our hopes ... to see how we can support one another," he said at the conclusion of a Mass a few hours later.

Coincidentally, the meeting took place just a few days after Miami Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski led a delegation from the United States to Cuba for the dedication of a new seminary on the outskirts of Havana, the country's first major church-related construction in the half century since the revolution led by Fidel Castro.

"The seminary is about the future," Archbishop Wenski said during a Nov. 6 news conference held at Miami International Airport after his return from the island. "(It is) a testimony that there is a future for faith, a future for the church in Cuba."

Two days later, Archbishop Wenski, Bishop Gonzalez and a host of Cuban clergy from Miami and elsewhere in the United States concelebrated a Mass at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Charity to mark the beginning of the four-day meeting between representatives of the church in Cuba and representatives of the church outside the island.

Among the concelebrants were Auxiliary Bishop Felipe J. Estevez and retired Auxiliary Bishop Agustin A. Roman of Miami as well as Auxiliary Bishop Octavio Cisneros of Brooklyn, N.Y., and Auxiliary Bishop Manuel A. Cruz of Newark, N.J.

At the news conference before the Mass, Bishop Gonzalez explained that the annual meetings between religious leaders on and off the island had taken place not only in Miami but in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and other U.S. cities, "although lately, Miami has become the host city."

Those earlier meetings have not received the publicity that this one has, acknowledged Bishop Estevez, who was part of the delegation that traveled to Cuba for the dedication of the new seminary.

In an interview upon his return, Bishop Estevez explained that, until now, "there has been a climate of discretion to facilitate the utmost confidence and confidentiality of the conversations."

Now, however, "we are making a greater effort to invite a larger number of Catholics," which is why the community was invited to two Masses: one Nov. 10 at St. Timothy Church in Miami, and the closing Mass of the meeting Nov. 11 at St. John the Apostle Church in Hialeah.

Hialeah is one of the epicenters of the Cuban exile community in south Florida, and that is exactly why it was selected, Bishop Estevez told the Florida Catholic, Miami's archdiocesan newspaper. "We wanted to make the closing inviting to the Cuban community of Hialeah."

Bishop Estevez added, "We are clear on the purpose and objectives of these encounters, which is for the good of the church here and there ... (and) so that the church (there) may be more understood and appreciated, even when it comes to its relationship with the government."

That is a touchy subject in south Florida. The Archdiocese of Miami received a number of angry phone calls during the days Archbishop Wenski was in Cuba. Callers vehemently objected to the archbishop's visit and to the presence of Raul Castro at the civil dedication ceremony for the seminary.

"It is a totalitarian society. Contact is inevitable," Bishop Estevez told the Florida Catholic.

He said he himself did not speak to Raul Castro while in Cuba, but Archbishop Wenski did, at the reception that followed the civil dedication ceremony. Fidel Castro was not present at any of the seminary events.

According to Archbishop Wenski, Raul Castro mentioned that he had read some comments the archbishop had made to The Miami Herald daily newspaper before leaving for Cuba -- and he did not like them. Then he said something to the effect that "the system" in the United States was to blame for the archbishop's perceptions of the Cuban reality. To which Archbishop Wenski said he replied, "Both here and there, we have to overcome the systems."

"One can speak truth to power without falling into vulgarities and disrespectfulness," Archbishop Wenski said at the airport news conference.

He said the seminary marked an important milestone in the life of the church in Cuba, and "we went there to be in solidarity with the church in Cuba."

Bishop Estevez said at the Nov. 8 news conference that, despite a half-century of government-imposed atheism during which the church's ability to function has been greatly restricted, "faith still has a place in the heart of the Cuban people."

"To announce Jesus Christ also involves a commitment with the human being. Cubans support the church, respect the church, and have it as a point of reference," Bishop Gonzalez said, because they know "the Cuban Church has been by their side."

END


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