Cardinal Dolan carried out his just completed six-day visit to Cuba in a low-key pastoral style on a trip that helped maintain the strong bond between the universal Catholic Church and the Cuban people.
The visit by such a high-ranking American prelate—at the invitation of the president of Cuba and the Cuban bishops—also served to keep alive the fraying connection between the Cuban and U.S. governments.
And in a departure from his usual outgoing style of ministry, the cardinal quietly emphasized the solidarity of the worldwide Catholic “family” in encounters he had with everyday Cuban Catholics and Church personnel.
It was the right approach at a troubled time for the island.
Not only is back-and-forth travel by Americans curtailed under Trump administration rules, but there also are difficulties traveling within the country due to a serious oil shortage heightened by U.S. sanctions.
Cardinal Dolan, traveling with Cuban-born Auxiliary Bishop Octavio Cisneros of Brooklyn and a small delegation from the archdiocese, experienced firsthand the travel difficulties from the worsening oil crisis. His first stop at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Charity in the town of El Cobre was an arduous full day journey from Havana, a trip that weeks ago would have taken just a few hours.
Displaying patience at the delays, the cardinal also displayed a concrete solidarity with the woes of the Cuban people in that he shared their experience.
“Yesterday was a long day, a long difficult journey,” he told the pilgrims gathered at El Cobre, speaking of his journey to the shrine honoring the patroness of Cuba. “It was difficult for us, but every trip, every journey is difficult, especially the journey of life.”
Although most of the cardinal’s stops were with the country’s prelates—including Cardinal Juan Garcia Rodriguez, the archbishop of Havana—at sites important to the Church, he was also expected to meet before he left with Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, who extended the invitation to the cardinal in New York.
With his visit, Cardinal Dolan continued along the Vatican path of engaging Cuba rather than isolating it, especially after decades of Church-government tensions in the officially “atheistic” nation eased following the historic 1998 visit by Pope John Paul II.
That papal visit, it’s worth noting, was arranged in large part by New York’s Cardinal John O’Connor, who traveled to Havana at the behest of the Vatican and met personally with Cuba’s then-President Fidel Castro.
Since then, while Cuba’s relationship with the Church has progressed, it’s relationship with its powerful neighbor to the north has ebbed and flowed, driven by real and perceived political considerations in Washington.
Formal diplomatic ties between the two countries were severed shortly after the 1959 revolution led by Fidel Castro, who attempted to spread communism throughout Latin America and whose government nationalized U.S. corporate properties in Cuba. The U.S. also imposed economic sanctions.
In late 2014, secret U.S.-Cuba negotiations sponsored by the Vatican led to the reopening of formal relations by the administrations of President Barack Obama and Raul Castro, who succeeded his brother as president.
The Trump administration, however, has since announced sanctions and a rollback of some of the policies made during that time.
We’re glad, therefore, that the Catholic Church and the New York Archdiocese remain important channels to Cuba while its relationship with the United States is in a down cycle.
Living conditions in Cuba are horrendous and people are suffering, most likely due to their own government’s failings coupled with U.S. sanctions. The country’s full integration into the world community can only help.
Meanwhile, we’re grateful that the Church in Cuba has not been discouraged from carrying out the teachings of Jesus, that service to others is service to Him.
“Here, I see the Church do what Jesus did in helping the old, the sick and the poor,” and simply doing what Jesus asked, said Cardinal Dolan during a Mass in Havana’s cathedral.
We pray that Cuba and its people will find better days ahead. We know the Church is there to help.