|Oswaldo Paya (1952- 2012)|
(Rome / Havana) Prior to the Pope's visit to Cuba, Ticino journalist Giuseppe Rusconi (Rossoporpora) introduced an interview with Ofelia Acevedo, widow of Oswaldo Payá, a leading figure among the Cuban Catholics and President of the Christian civil rights movement Movimiento Cristiano de Liberacion (Christian Liberation Movement), who came his end in a "very suspicious car accident" on 22 July 2012 (Rusconi). In the accident, Oswaldo Payá (Founder and President) and Harold Cepero (president of the youth organization) the entire leadership of Christian Liberation Movement was extinguished. Pope Francis, who received the Payá family on 14 May 2014 in a private audience, knows the situation well. The Widow criticizes Cardinal Jaime Ortega, archbishop of Havana, whom she accuses of a hostile attitude towards the dissidents and critics of the regime.
Oswaldo Payá founded the Christian Liberation Movement in 1987 which became the authoritative voice of the anti-communist and anti-Castro dissidents. The Catholic Payá was the central figure of the dissident scene. Three years ago he was killed 700 km from Havana in a suspicious car accident. His name is connected with Proyecto Varela for obtaining fundamental rights and freedoms for the Cuban people by a referendum. Payá gathered the necessary 10,000 signatures and handed them over in 2002 to the Cuban Parliament. In 2003 he submitted it again with 14,000 signatures, although the communist island regime responded with repressive measures. Ofelia Acevedo had to emigrate a year after the death of her husband with her family to Miami (USA) because there was no end to constant police harassment and threats.
"In Cuba there is no freedom of religion"
For Pope's visit to Cuba Ofelia Acevedo said:
"When I found out, I was surprised, I felt great joy. Surprised because three papal visits within 17 years are a privilege, joy because Pope Francis is especially identified with the poor, marginalized and persecuted. These groups apply to the majority of my people. You expect a message of encouragement and hope by Pope Francis, who inspires them to rise up and go a long way to begin to become actors in their own history, to find the strength to do this in Jesus Christ, the great restorer of human dignity. "
The announcement of the Pope's visit has so far, says Acevedo, brought no improvements for the Cuban people. "The lack of freedom keeps Cubans trapped in poverty and injustice." The situation is no much the same: "In Cuba there is no freedom of religion. There is an Office of Religious Affairs of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party (the only legal party on the island), which is connected to State Security (the Seguridad). It has the task to monitor every member of the Church, to search, to persuade, to threaten, anyone who in his opinions or his conduct is displeased with the government of the Castro brothers. They have the power to intervene at any time in any area of Church life which does not satisfy the government. The Church has no access to the mass media. Families can offer their children no Christian religious instruction, because there is no such. The current head of the Office for Religious Affairs of the Communist Party has declared in connection with the Pope's visit, that religious instruction was eliminated by the Revolution."
Pope Francis knows the "pathetic" situation of Cubans
The Pope visits between 1998 and 2012 were an important sign of fraternal communion with the Pilgrim Church of Cuba. The messages of John Paul II. and Benedict XVI. had been gratefully received by those Cubans who could hear it. "The Church hierarchy refers to positive consequences, because the government made it possible after the visits, that some priests could enter the country and purchase certain equipment and vehicles necessary for the pastoral care, as well as the return of some confiscated property including churches and schools in the early years of the revolution, which were then in the best condition. When they were returned, they were empty, dilapidated or or totally destroyed. Other visible positive consequences are not known to me."
The Castro government announced on the occasion of the Pope's visit, the amnesty of 3522 prisoners. "Until now there are himself among these, however, no political prisoners. In fact, so far the amnesty has not been put into effect yet for any prisoners."
The widow of Oswaldo Payá was received with her family by Pope Francis in a private audience. "We talked to him about the deplorable conditions under which the vast majority of Cubans survive. We talked for the pilgrim Church in Cuba to which we belong and whom we dearly love. We also talked about the assassination attempt of 22 July 2012, the car of my husband, which was perpetrated by agents of the Seguridad. On my husband's assassination, Oswaldo Payá and the young Harold Cepero [president of the youth organization of the Christian Liberation Movement] were killed. We have told the Pope that we are calling for an independent investigation in order to clarify the precise course of events. I think that Pope Francis knows the real situation in which Cubans live. He is well informed and involved in different moments linked to the suffering of the Cuban people."
"If the Pope wants it, he can meet Cuban dissidents"
Should the Pope want it, "he will be able to meet Cuban dissidents".
For some time, the negative disposition of Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Ortega y Alamino of Havana toward the dissidents has been criticized not only by the Catholic opposition. This past June 5 Cardinal Ortega, who was a central point of contact for Oswaldo Payá, gave an interview for the Spanish Cadena Ser, in which he even denied the existence of political prisoners in Cuba.
"Unfortunately, Cardinal Ortega has on several occasion behaved in ways towards dissidents, not only the Catholic, that correspond to those employed by state security: exclude and insult."
Rusconi asked the widow what her husband, Oswaldo Payá, would say if he were still alive to the Pope. "My husband could hardly have had the opportunity to be in the vicinity of the pope during the visit. In the two previous Pope's visit he had asked the Church authorities to be able to meet John Paul II. And Benedict XVI., but it was not possible. We assume that the Cuban government would never have accepted such an encounter. But I'm sure if Oswaldo could speak with the Pope, he would have asked for nothing, but he would have said, 'I want to hear your word with an open heart and full of hope.'
Text: Giuseppe Nardi
Trans: Tancred firstname.lastname@example.org