Church Offers Help to Rebuild the Casa Cuba
Vatican Foreign Minister Dominique Mamberti in Cuba AP Photo/Javier Galeano
Vatican Secretary of State Archbishop Mamberti arrived today in Cuba to a full agenda, responding to a joint invitation from the local Church and the Cuban government to celebrate the 75th anniversary of relations between the Holy See and the Republic of Cuba, and to participate in the tenth annual Semana Social, a conference on social ministry. For the first time, the Archdiocese will simultaneously publish conference events daily on the web.
Archbishop Mamberti's visit comes at a time of great hope but also great sensitivity, given the dialogue underway between Cuban authorities and the Catholic bishops. The focus of that dialogue has been Cuba's political prisoners and their supporters, the Ladies in White, and it has epic dimensions that a Vatican representative will only add to. The participants are opponents with fundamental differences, starting with the way they define the human person. And neither tends to embrace change (or, generally, see the need to).
According to a recent editorial in the Cuban Catholic magazine Espacio Laical, Cuba's challenges include seeking "[a] way for every Cuban to express their views and...strive to achieve a consensus, renew Cuba's anthropological culture, reestablish economic structures, and achieve better relations with the world, including the United States."
A tall order. But the Church sees a role for itself, and not only for the hierarchy. Those goals must be reached despite "the apathy of many and the discordant passions of important sectors" of society. And in that challenge, reads the editorial, "is where the Catholic Church's role will unfold."
The Church can't solve the Cuban government's most serious material challenge: food security. But in a continuing dialogue the Church and State can collaborate on other critical social issues, in a quiet but productive way. The education system is in dramatic decline, and there is deep concern among Cubans that the state can no longer maintain minimal levels of quality. In this sector the Catholic Church finds a theme of enduring interest and competence. Going back nearly two decades, from the earliest days of the resurgence of the Catholic Church in Cuba, it has sought a seat at the table in engaging Cuba's citizens on social issues. Never has the Cuban government had greater need for new allies, and particularly inside the country.
Though times may not be as tough as they were during the mid 1990s, Cuba's social infrastructure was stronger and more resilient then; it is frayed to the breaking point now. While it is impossible to imagine the state ceding control of even one school, it isn't beyond the realm of possibility that the Church be allowed to bring technical expertise to bear in the service of a higher standard of quality in education. In small ways, this is already happening. If allowed a space, the Church will respond.
The fact that this week's Social Week opens in the great hall of San Geronimo College (once a Catholic institution run by the Dominican Fathers and now part of the Historian of Havana's restoration project for old Havana and a state-run university) and not cloistered in a distant church facility, and that it includes participants that have excelled in secular environments, including Harvard's Jorge Dominguez and "official" Cuban economists who have returned from fellowships abroad, is significant. (But perhaps not surprising. After all, San Geronimo includes among its areas of study the preparation of students for the "battle of ideas as a political strategy for the defense of our people's sovereignty [against] forms of aggression employed by the United States.") This event is far from the norm, for the Church and for the State.
Espacio Laical (the editor of which, Lenier González, will participate in the Social Week discussions) points out a simple truth: "in any process of negotiation each party must be willing to demand and to concede, so that both can benefit. Otherwise it would not be a legitimate covenant that seeks to approach the good of all."