It is summer in the city of Rome and it is expected that by Saturday, October 5, when the Consistory takes place where Pope Francis will create the thirteen new members of the College of Cardinals, the pleasant temperature of 24o and the half-clouded sky will make the Archbishop of Havana, Monsignor Juan de la Caridad García, not feel uncomfortable dressed in the scarlet purple cassock that he must wear for the occasion and that will be , as befits every cardinal of the Holy Church, the garment which by color will remember how committed he is to faith.
Since the 1st. September, after the Angelus prayer in St. Peter’s Square, the Holy Father will announce the name of the Habanero prelated among those who will be promoted to the top of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, there is no talk of anything else in the Cuban churches, for many years have passed since the last time a compatriot was distinguished with such an appointment. The first Prince of the Church to give the island was also the Camagueyano Manuel Arteaga, who received the cardinal bired at the hands of Pius XII, in February 1946. Decades later, on November 26, 1994, it was received by the matancero Jaime Ortega delivered by Pope John Paul II.
Monsignor Juan García is, in many ways, different from the purpurados Creole that preceded it. As a man of extreme simplicity, he prefers to work in silence, away from the eyes. With his predecessors he shares, in addition to the love for Cuba and the Church, to govern the Haban archdiocese in “difficult junctures” – perhaps a pastoral challenge imposed from above. This interview, as brief as it is sincere, illustrates the little character given to the interviewee’s “flash lights”, because even if he always responds with a smile, the new cardinal is not attracted to being targeted with a tape recorder.
He said that when he heard the news that the Pope had announced that he would create it cardinal he hesitated to believe it. Why? You never dreamed of becomes one?
“Whoever dreams of being a cardinal is crazy. When Father Ariel Suarez Jáuregui called me to tell me that the Pope had appointed me cardinal, I said, ‘The Pope is not crazy.’ And Ariel said, “The pope is crazy.” I never dreamed of being a cardinal, but he came from above, unexpectedly for me, and I accept it. It will be the Holy Spirit. I don’t know.”
Why did you hesitate to believe it?
“Because I don’t think I have the necessary conditions. In all masses we ask ‘for all bishops, for Pope Francis, and for me, unworthy servant of yours’. And I am, that’s why we do it at all masses.”
How much does this appointment change the way it is a priest change?
“The Pope has written a letter to those of us who have been appointed cardinals in which he tells us that this designation is to belong to the clergy of Rome, to help him in the universal mission of the Church, to give to the blood if necessary by the Church, to treat everyone with more compassion and tenderness. In this sense it is a change, because the Holy Father asks us for greater dedication.”
“In other ways it does not change much, because the mass of a cardinal and a priest is the same, the sacraments are also the same, the companionship and closeness to the faithful must also be the same, although a cardinal has to give himself more, even than he did when he was a priest or bishop.”
What does this appointment imply for Cuba and the Cuban Church?
“It is a demonstration of Pope Francis’ love for our Church and evidence that those who want to see the work of the recently deceased Cardinal Jaime Ortega continued. It is proof that the Holy Father wants to be closer to that Church that praises God and teaches his word to this people. It’s like a blessing to Cuba, that’s how I understand it.”
In your opinion and perhaps speculating, what do you consider to be the Pope’s motive for this appointment just shortly after Cardinal Ortega’s death?
“That’s what we’d have to ask the pope, because I don’t know.”
We imagined the answer, but we’ll still ask the question. Because of your age, you qualify among those eligible to be Pope in an eventual conclave, has the possibility of being Pope ever passed through your head?
“Then the Holy Spirit would be mad! Not to dream it, not to dream it.”
Even though he hasn’t dreamed of being Pope, he’ll be cardinal elector. If it was up to him to choose Francis’ successor, what would it be like? What qualities should you gather to have your vote?
“He should have the style of Pope Francis, his desire for a Church on the way out, close to those most in need. The successor of the Holy Father should be someone who continues with his line, although of course he would have his special charisms. But the way is the path by this pontificate.”
Although he has said that the difference between a priest and a cardinal is not too much, the fact that it is so implies certain things. Do you consider that this appointment can compete with your well-known dedication to pastoral works and the simple and missionary work you have developed, almost always from silence?
“When I was appointed bishop, those close to me said to me, “It remains the same.” When I was appointed archbishop of Havana, those I feel as friends told me, “It’s still the same.” I’m sure the Pope will now tell me, “It’s still the same.” That is what you will ask me, even if I must take into account my new circumstances and obligations. But I think the Pope will ask me to do that, to remain always the same.”