Cuban cardinal says religious repression diminishing slowly

Cuban cardinal says religious repression diminishing slowly
By Ellie Hidalgo
Catholic News Service

LOS ANGELES (CNS) -- It's been a slow process, but "religious repression has been diminishing little by little" in Cuba, said Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino of Havana, Cuba.

Starting in the 1980s "there was an evolution on the part of the government" increasing church-state communication and "the tension began to diminish," the cardinal said in an interview with The Tidings, newspaper of the Los Angeles Archdiocese, which appeared June 30.

The cardinal was in Los Angeles in June to attend the spring meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and to visit with Cuban-Americans in the area.

The limits placed by the communist government on the church now do not involve being able to worship, he said. They involve not being able to have Catholic schools or teach religion in public schools, he said.

There is also limited access to the state-controlled media, the cardinal said.

"Slowly we are achieving more," he said. "But we don't have customary access to communications media."

The cardinal praised the spread of "missionary houses of prayer," private homes where Catholics come together for prayer and religious instruction.

"There comes a moment when these homes form a Christian community. They function like a parish," he said.

These houses, because they are in neighborhoods, are often more accessible to people than parishes, he said.

In Havana, there are 400 missionary houses, he said.

The cardinal added that when he spoke to the U.S. bishops in closed session June 16 he discussed the need to maintain communications between the Cuban and U.S. churches.

"It's always necessary that the church doesn't remain isolated or without the possibilities to communicate with the church in North America," he said.

The cardinal praised the U.S. church for its aid to Cubans after major natural disasters and its support of Cuban Caritas, the bishops' social welfare agency.

The cardinal criticized stepped-up travel restriction by the U.S. government on Cubans in the United States who want to visit relatives in Cuba.

New restrictions limit visits to once every three years. Before, visits could take place yearly.

"People have situations -- especially with older family members who expect their relatives to visit them sooner," he said.

Changing this will not be easy, "but there could be some kind of humanitarian solution," he said.

The church has an important role in increasing the feeling of communion between Cubans in Cuba and those in the United States, he said.

There may have been "political ruptures" in the past, but "I don't think there is an attitude of hostility," he said.

"I think communion is the capacity to love and to feel like we are all one. That is the role of the church," the cardinal said.