Cuban Priest: “Religious Freedom, a Necessary Path”

This post was first published in Spanish on the Facebook page of the Catholic Cuban group “Areópago Cubano.Click here to read the post.

By Father Rolando G. Montes de Oca Valero

May 26, 2021

Religious freedom is a good even for atheists. John Paul II said, “Religious freedom is a cornerstone of the edifice of human rights and is therefore an irreplaceable factor in the good of individuals and of society as a whole, as well as in the personal fulfillment of each person.”

This right, which we all have as human persons, guarantees the absence of coercion by other persons, groups or powers of this world, so that no one is pressured to act against his conscience, nor is he prevented from acting in accordance with it in private and in public, alone or in association with others.

But religious freedom is not only linked to freedom of conscience, but also to the social nature of human beings. Recognizing this right, societies must guarantee that citizens can profess religion, communally and publicly, and ensure the right of parents to choose the education for their children, according to their convictions and religious faith.  Having the option to educate one’s children in religious schools is a human right that is missing in Cuba.

Respect for religious freedom, which, according to the Polish Pope, is “the fruit and guarantee of all other freedoms,” implies the right of religious institutions to be systematically present in the media, as well as the right of their faithful to receive religious content through the media. The Cuban government’s refusal to allow the Church to have a space in the traditional media, which are public, that is, paid for with the contributions of the people—including religious believers—and the persistence of this refusal even in these times of Covid is another clear violation of the right to religious freedom.

No person or institution of good will should fear religious freedom. It is in itself beneficial to society. Religious freedom generates a climate that prevents intolerance and fanaticism, encourages constructive dialogue and peaceful coexistence. It is, indeed, an indispensable condition for the rule of law.

Although religious freedom coincides with José Marti’s ideal of a Cuba “with all and for the good of all,” for Cubans residing on the island, this right is reduced to freedom of worship, which in recent times has been seriously compromised under the pretext of Covid.

In these times of pandemic, it is insulting to see people crowding in lines everywhere, moved by the urgent need to seek daily sustenance; even more disturbing are the acts of repudiation and political demonstrations to which new crowds have been called; and I personally am outraged that, while all this is happening, the same authorities have limited and in most cases even prevented religious acts—in which distancing is easily done—under the pretext of the risk of contagion.

The Church, which teaches respect for values and commitment to the construction of a just and supportive society, has much to contribute. It is precisely this contribution that is sometimes frightening and is sometimes avoided. However, the fact that the civil power listens to the voice of the Church is not a gift for which the Church should be grateful; the Church, which is part of the people and so often represents them, has the right to be heard.

The Church does not align itself with “one against the other,” but its message, which stems from the Gospel, is a service to truth and justice. It is an essential part of its mission to make connect with the people, and to be their voice.

To hold that the Church should only look to Heaven, or wash her hands of what her people are experiencing, is to attack her very essence, to denaturalize her. The Church, who is a mother, walks with her people, in such a way that she makes her own the joys and hopes, the sorrows and anguish of the men and women of our time, especially the poor and all kinds of afflicted (cf. Gaudium et spes 1). To use the Church only when she goes along a certain line is to play at manipulating her. To claim a state of “good relations” at the price of the Church’s silence is not to respect her freedom; it is a grave way of trampling on religious freedom.

It is true that, if Cubans compare the current conditions of religious freedom with those suffered in past decades, we will notice progress; it is also true that the Constitution of the Republic enunciates this right; but in practice it cannot be affirmed that Cuba enjoys religious freedom. It is desirable, however, that all nations make progress in it; because in the words of Pope Francis: “It is a basic guarantee of any other expression of freedom, a bulwark against totalitarianism and a decisive contribution to human fraternity.”