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Surviving communism as a Catholic in Cuba

January 26, 2017
Oscar Ramirez
San Francisco

As a Cuban Catholic, I was surprised not to read in Father Kenneth Weare’s article on the relations between the Catholic Church and the Cuban dictatorship (Dec. 15, 2016) about the ship “Covadonga,” where hundreds of “problematic” priests, nuns, monks, and religious on the island were shipped off to Europe (mostly to Spain) after being rounded up by the Communist military soon after the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. I also did not read about the importation of non-Cuban, foreign priests to repopulate the parishes because these foreign priests could be more easily monitored, controlled, and did not express the indignation of the Cuban-born clergy. I also did not read in father’s article about the confiscation of all Catholic orphanages, hospitals, clinics, schools (including my own elementary school with the Salesian Brothers in Camaguey), universities, and other social institutions at the time of the clerical deportations.

I did not read in his article about the decades-long absolute prohibition against the repair or new construction of any Catholic buildings on the island. I also did not read about the abortion of future higher studies and professional careers of any young people who during the first 30 years of the Cuban Communist dictatorship declared openly that they would continue practicing their faith, in essence, the systematic annihilation of promising educational and professional futures because of a paranoid political tyranny and the hatred for the Catholic Church in the country.

I also did not read about the fresh hell that Communist neighbors would put one through with the full approval of the Communist block captain (yes, every block still has one who gets in all your business with impunity) whenever one was suspected of sympathizing or, worse yet, of practicing one’s Catholic faith. I also did not read in father’s article about my own first Communion and confirmation which in 1962 had to be held at night, in a practically darkened church, with the bishop entering through the back door of the temple, while angry Communist sympathizers marched up the street chanting and promising us a bloody death for being such Catholic “worms” (gusanos).

I did not read about my cousin’s and others’ homes being stoned by neighbors because they were known to attend Mass and were active in the church. I did not read about the execrable profanations that the Communists perpetrated inside the priest-less churches, without enough time to even hide or consume the consecrated hosts at the altar before the revolutionary military commandeered them and committed unspeakable atrocities against Christ.

If we want to speak of history, we must speak of the entire history, not just selected moments that suit an ideological narrative. One thing is visiting a country for an international congress; it is much different having to survive there.

The writer lived in Cuba from 1955 to 1966. He has a doctorate in Romance Linguistics and Literature from UCLA in 1984 and is the author of various collections of literary short stories on Cuba and its history, including “The Tower of Ojai and Other Cuban Tales” (Outskirts Press, 2015).

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