Cuba: Fidel Castro and the Claretians

The Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro died November 25, 2016. The Claretian Missionary spirit has been in Cuba for 166 years and still strong.
Fidel Castro had been educated by Jesuits. Fidel Castro was a lawyer at Havana University, he was clearly marked for politics from early youth. A brilliant student orator and a successful athlete, he was the outstanding figure of his generation of students.

Fidel Castro, the fiery apostle of revolution who brought the Cold War to the Western Hemisphere in 1959 and then defied the United States for nearly half a century as Cuba’s maximum leader, bedeviling 11 U.S. presidents and briefly pushing the world to the brink of nuclear war, died Friday 25th November 2016..

Fidel Castro had held onto power longer than any other living national leader except Queen Elizabeth II. Fidel Castro was one of the more extraordinary political figures of the 20th century. He spoke with passion. He was Cuba’s “Maximo Lider.” Castro believed himself to be the messiah of his fatherland.

Fidel Castro handed over the powers to his brother Raúl in 2008.

He had both admirers and detractors in Cuba and around the world. Some saw him as a ruthless despot who trampled rights and freedoms; many others hailed him as a revolutionary hero for the ages.

Cuban revolutionary leader Castro’s ashes will be buried in the historic southeastern city of Santiago on December 4.


The man who received three popes

An indelible impression was left on Cubans by the visit of Saint Holiness John Paul II, on January 21 thru 25, 1998. Back then, TIME dubbed John Paul’s meeting with Fidel Castro a “clash of faiths.”


Pope Benedict XVI visited in 2012. The Pope visited the cities of Santiago de Cuba and Havana in Cuba from Monday, March 26 to Thursday, March 29, 2012. He secured the observance of good Friday as a holiday in the country during 2012, for the first time since the Revolution, a favor he had personally requested of President Raul Castro during his visit- similar to his predecessor Saint John Paul II’s successful personal request of Fidel Castro during his landmark 1998 visit to allow Christmas as a permanent holiday.

Castro was 86, Benedict is 84. At one point, Fidel Castro asked a simple question: “What does a pope do?”

Relations between the government and the Church have improved noticeably under both Popes and Presidents.

The Pope stated on his visit, regarding Cuba, “I appeal to you to reinvigorate your faith … that you may strive to build a renewed and open society, a better society, one more worthy of humanity”.


Pope Francis visited Cuba in September 2015

Pope Francis met briefly with former Cuban President Fidel Castro, then held a longer meeting with his brother, current President Raul Castro. Raúl Castro said in a 2015 televised news conference in which he discussed Pope Francis’s September 2015 visit, “I am from the Cuban Communist Party that doesn’t allow believers, but now we are allowing it. It’s an important step.”

The Vatican described the meeting at Castro’s residence as informal and familial, with an exchange of books and discussion about big issues facing humanity, including Francis’ recent encyclical on the environment and the global economic system


Saint Claret is remembered in the Pope’s visit to Cuba

From September 19 to 22, 2015 Pope Francis made his visit to the Church and the People of Cuba. In his itinerary, in addition to La Habana, the capital, his Holiness went to the Orient of the Island, going through the cities of Holguín and Santiago, so much linked to the evangelizing witness of Saint Anthony Mary Claret, who was its Archbishop.

On September 21, at the end of the Eucharistic celebration in Holguín, Cuba, the bishop Don Emilio Aranguren Echeverría addressed some words of gratitude. In his speech, the bishop made a brief historical review of the key moments of evangelization in this zone, pointing as a very important moment to the missionary ministry of our Father Founder saint Antony Mary claret.

The bishop said: “(…) near here, around Bariay, in 1492 Colón stepped on solid ground as representative of the culture of the Old World. In a 1612, the image of the Virgin of Charity entered in Cuban ground through Nipe, and she had her first temple in our Hato de Barajagua. In 1790 the wood of the cross stood erect in the Hillock that today bears her name and from where You will bless us this afternoon as a farewell gift. In the midst of the XIX century, in our present Cathedral Church, Saint Anthony Mary Claret –tireless missionary of our oriental fields – was attacked and wounded on the face leaving us also the stamp of his blood as a testimony of his dedication to the Lord.


Claretians in Cuba

The City of Santiago de Cuba celebrated in 2015 its half millennium of life. This city, where the Archbishop Saint Anthony Mary Claret unfurled a deep and untiring evangelizing work of human and socio-cultural promotion, has a very special meaning for all the Claretians.

All the more so for the Claretians who are accompanying the Cubans from their apostolic works located in four communities: those of the Shrine of the Heart of Mary (La Habana), the La Milagrosa parish (Guantánamo), the San José de la Maya parish (Songo-La Maya) and the Most Holy Trinity parish (Santiago de Cuba).

The Claretian Missionaries are doing their missionary work in the context of the parochial, urban and marginalized suburban territory, with afro-descendant population zones, with a predominantly synergetic religiosity.

The Congregation going forth

What are the new slaveries, new poverties, new ignorance and new injustices that Claret would confront today?

It is our turn to ask ourselves, as inheritors of his missionary spirit, who are the poorest, neediest and most marginalized ones today?

What are the new geographical, social and cultural frontiers of the mission? Of course, we cannot provide remedies to all the evils of this world; we cannot take up the responsibility of looking after the needs of the whole diocese as did Claret. But we can discern what are the most pressing evils that can´t make us to be indifferent as sons of the Heart of Mary.

Who are the persons and which are the places that need most our missionary cordiality?

It needs a lot of missionary sensitivity, personal and communitarian discernment.

Our Congregation has taken great steps in this sense and the testimony of Claret invites us to commit ourselves deeply in defending the human rights, in the promotion of an economy that is more just and  solidarity, in the social inclusion of the poorest, marginalized, in taking care of the immigrants, in civil and religious dialogues, etc.

The work in the promotion of justice, peace and integrity of creation, by its complexity and depth demands us in a special manner to be lucid, realistic and practical like Claret.

We live in an epoch with so many problems, particularly in the time of crisis and in the concrete places where all the social realities challenge us as missionaries. What to do? Where to begin? Whom to take care?

By Fr.Joseph Santiago CMF, Claret Prem Nivas, Tamil Nadu, INDIA