Catholic Church Wielding Growing Influence in Cuba, Says Country's Catholic Representative

WASHINGTON – A representative of the Cuban Catholic Church explained at an event Monday that presently the Catholic Church is exerting a growing influence in the country.

Orlando Márquez Hidalgo, editor and director of the Havana Archdiocese publication Palabra Nueva (or New Word), explained to The Christian Post after a panel discussion event held by the Brookings Institute that there is "open dialogue" between the Church and President Raúl Castro.

"There is an open dialogue, there is not a road map, there is an open dialogue where everything can be included," said Márquez.  "They talked about the situation in Cuba and the relationship with the regime, how to improve the relations between the Church and the government."

Márquez was commenting about the Catholic Church's talks with the Cuban government, headed by Raúl Castro, younger brother of long-serving President Fidel Castro.

Results of these talks have included potential reforms as well as social justice matters. The Catholic Church helped broker the release of about 50 political prisoners several years ago.

Márquez was one of three individuals who gave remarks at an event by Brookings known as "The Role of the Catholic Church in Cuba Today."

In addition to Márquez, other panelists were Eusebio Mujal-Leon, associate professor at Georgetown University, and Tom Quigley, former foreign policy advisor on Latin America and the Caribbean for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

"Over the last two decades, the Catholic Church has come to occupy a unique space within Cuban society and has developed a growing dialogue with the Cuban state," reads a description of the event on Brookings' website.  "Actively interested in the ongoing economic reform process, the Archdiocese of Havana promotes debate regarding the role of the state and citizens in the economy and facilitates graduate training in business studies."

Ted Piccone, senior fellow and deputy director of public policy for Brookings, moderated the event.

"For all of you here, if you haven't been following, you will learn quickly how interesting and exciting things are in Cuba these days and the Catholic Church has something to do with that," said Piccone.

"For the last several years, the Catholic Church has played a dynamic role at the leadership level as well as at the local level in breaking new ground, in having conversations, in promoting discussions and dialogue about the future of Cuba."

In an interview with CP, Quigley of the USCCB explained that the Catholic Church's freedom to operate has improved over time.

"It's been much freer than it used to be at the beginning," said Quigley, who has visited Cuba for church business several times in the past.

"The first visit of U.S. Bishops to Cuba was 1985, that's a long time after 1959 [The year of the Revolution]. But after that time it became easier for those visits to take place."

Márquez said that as someone born and raised Catholic in Cuba right after Castro took power, he can testify that the pressure against the Church was fiercer early on than today.  "For many years during the sixties and the seventies there was a lot of pressure on the believers. Pressure that in many cases for that pressure they abandoned the faith," said Márquez.

"The Revolution demanded that faith from the individual. It is not the case right now. They are not interfering. Even in the tough moments of the '60s, our situation was not like the other Soviet, socialist countries in Europe."

The Brookings panel comes several days after the Council of Churches in Cuba (CIC) stated its approval for Raúl Castro's official remarks stating that religious institutions have a place in Cuban society.

"We are pleased that in your call to work for the recuperating of values, you have taken the Cuban religious institutions into consideration," reads the CIC statement in part.

According to Open Doors USA, about 57 percent of Cuba is Christian. A common complaint among Christians in the Caribbean nation is that of constant government surveillance and infiltration.

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