“The Catholic Church renews its leadership roster and adapts its strategy to the new historical phase Cuba is going through and in line with Pope Francis’ guidelines. Thus [creating] a Cuban church more focused on social issues and more attentive to the young.” The professor of history of religions Lopez Oliva, like most of the island’s Catholic movement, wants to emphasize that the Vatican’s choice to appoint Juan De la Caridad Garcia as new archbishop of Havana and to retire Cardinal Jaime Ortega is not a bureaucratic move.
In fact, Ortega was for about 30 years the leader of the capital’s archdiocese, and he marked a turning point in the language of the Catholic Church, repairing broken dialogue with the government and starting a recovery of the prestige and the active role of the Catholic movement after the repression suffered in the 1970s.
But he was also criticized by the Catholic movement, which believes the recovery happened at the cost of getting too close to the government, even to the point of distancing itself from the opposition. Through negotiations with President Raul Castro and with Barack Obama as an intermediary of Pope Francis to reach a detente between Cuba and the United States, Ortega had triggered a controversy by claiming that “in Cuba there are no political prisoners.”
Pope Francis, after his first visit to Cuba last year, had publicly praised the role of the cardinal for having virtually revived the Catholic Church from the ashes of Fidel Castro’s atheist campaign more than 30 years ago. For this reason, he had refused Ortega’s offer to retire at the age of 75.
But now times have changed. Normalization with the United States is ongoing. Last week the Congress of the Communist Party decided to expand economic and social reforms launched by Raul Castro, and party leaders will start to be replaced by 2021.
Pope Francis, in tune with the Cuban ecclesial summit, has decided to anticipate the changing times and to give a signal both of rejuvenation, as well as a greater presence in Cuban society. The new archbishop of Havana, Juan De la Caridad Garcia, is 68 years old and is mostly considered an active pastor in Cuban society and he is attentive to the demands of the population. “The appointment of the new archbishop marks the end of a long phase of the Cuban Catholic Church that lasted more than three decades and opens a new era characterized by a new working style,” says Dagoberto Valdés, director of the Catholic magazine Convivencia.
“Monsignor Garcia,” he continued, “has been bishop of Camaguey since 1997, a bishop especially dedicated to the pastoral care of the Church but also attentive to people’s living conditions.” In short, a prelate less “politically visible” than Ortega, but more present in the countryside, in small communities, with a defender-of-the-people profile, in accordance with the indications of Pope Francis.
“Rejuvenation of the episcopacy, growth of the social role of the Church, demand for more space in the fields of information and education, today dominated by the government, the strengthening of the Catholic youth movement.” These, according to Professor Lopez Oliva, are the priorities of the new archbishop of Havana. The recovery of the Cuban youth is one of the objectives in which the Church competes with the Cuban government.
Perhaps for this reason, says the professor, “the two newspapers of the Communist Party, Granma and Juventud Rebelde, have not reported on the appointment of the new archbishop of Havana.” Some parishes of the capital, as well as in the rest of the island, are engaged in social activities that include computer and foreign languages courses, as well as helping young people who want to launch their own commercial or economic activity. the people who attend these courses are ironically called “Obama’s children.” There is also Cuba Emprende, a project launched by the Varela Catholic Cultural Center in Havana and the Camaguey archbishopric for assistance and advice to young entrepreneurs.
In his recent visit to Havana, in fact, Obama met with a group of small business owners to listen to their requests and to offer advice and collaboration. The Cuba Emprende course includes 80 hours of lessons in various subjects, human development, marketing, finance and accounting management, sales and customer service.