An ancient Christmas plea from Christians asks God for “the prudence that makes true sages” (cf. Joys of the Ninth of Christmas). Prudence and wisdom that perfectly define the character, personality, temperament, spirit and profile of Jaime Lucas Ortega Alamino, Cardinal of Cuba. Prudence and wisdom define, in the best and most appropriate way, the being and work of this illustrious man, great Christian, generous priest and pastor and eminent Cuban.
Great gift from the God of life is for any human being a great friend. But the best gift is to stumble in life with a great man, and a great friend, especially if exquisite and exceptional virtues such as prudence and wisdom adorn him and with them he proceeds and illuminates everything in his path.
I intend to leave here not a chronological-biographical recount of Jaime Cardenal Ortega, but a testimony of the gift and award that made my life by allowing me to enjoy the friendship of Jaime Ortega, the close knowledge of his being and mission that the honor of his friendship allowed me and the way his closeness has accompanied and enlightened my own being and work.
Archbishop Jaime Ortega was newly appointed archbishop of Havana in 1981, when he was invited by then Cardinal Terence Cook, Archbishop of New York, to lead the annual spiritual reflection days of the Hispanic priests of that Archdiocese, a task carried out by Archbishop Jaime Ortega under the pastoring of John Cardinal O’Connor of the New York Church because , unexpectedly, Cardinal Terence Cook had died by the time of such annual spiritual retreats of the Hispanic clergy.
I evoke this fact, because it also gave rise to the birth of a close and very important friendship between Archbishops O’Lord of New York and Ortega of Havana, which lasted for many years and which produced enormous benefits for the life and mission of the Church in Cuba in the midst of the regime that has ruled there for six decades.
Precisely here lies the greatness of the life and work of Cardinal Jaime Ortega: that for almost four decades and in the Cuban sociopolitical context already mentioned and by all known – with an incomparable and rare mixture of prudence and wisdom – he sowed gospel and hoped for a better future for his homeland, from his humanity, his Christianity and his priestly and episcopal vocation and ministry. Sowing and harvesting by which today, Cardinal Jaime Ortega turns out and stands as an indispensable figure to understand and explain the life and history of the island in recent decades and of the Catholic Church in it.
There is no time for Pastor Jaime Ortega’s leading role in Cuba and the Catholic Church on the island to be sufficiently weighed, valued and missed. His pastoral performance, always attached and faithful to the most genuine principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ – not to ideological or polylabeling positions – has been well recognized and applauded by some and misunderstood and misunderstood by others, because it is difficult to remain indifferent to the life and work of this great shepherd.
Because Jaime Ortega is – first and for all – a great pastor of the Catholic Church. And as the father, pastor and highest sheer of the Cuban grey for so many years, he has served and forgiven, announced and denounced, worked for justice and for the truth, called – on time and in time – unity and reconciliation for the forgiveness of Cubans on and off the island, without forgetting the recent history , so that, in his own words, “hate is losing.”
Jaime Ortega was responsible for being head of the Catholic Church and protagonist of the life of a society and nation that became a center of attention for the world for its social political process of the so-called “Cuban castrist revolution” and in the world context of the so-called “cold war” between the two world powers at the time. In this context always convulsive and not easy we must read the text of Cardinal Ortega’s life: the text that is his life and his work, a text always diaphanous and always frank, always honest and always sincere, always austere and always brilliant, always prudent and always wise, always generous and always willing to sacrifice and service to all by the Gospel , and, above all, always without crying out…
In this context, Jaime Cardenal Ortega was always an indispensable figure in Church-State relations, either in the struggle to reopen and recapture spaces lost for the work of the Church in Cuba or already working for the release of political prisoners; traveling the world as a voiceless voice of Cubans or rebuilding the decimated and depressed structure of the Church on the island – Church, at the time, prostrate, dwarfed and isolated internationally and without resources or personnel; encouraging and forging the hope of Cubans in general and Catholic Christians in particular and inviting the Government’s dialogue with the Catholic bishops of the island; receiving all important perso-nality and representatives of international orga-nismos who visit the island and who always request a meeting with the Archbishop of Havana or mediating, forging and intervening in immigration agreements between the Cuban Government and the Government of the United States.
During his long episcopal ministry he consecrated bishops, ordained priests, rebuilt temples, recaptured properties of the Igle-sia that were already lost; found spaces for dialogue and opened new for Catholics on the island with a new ecclesial and missionary impulse. In the exercise of his grazing, and thanks always to his prestigious intermediation, the last three Popes visited Cuba: John Paul II (1998), Benedict XVI (2012) and Francis (2015).
His distinguished and overwhelming personality, his prudence and sabi-duría, his authority and mediation, were achieving spaces of dialogue and credibility in Cuba and the rest of Latin America; in Rome and in the Cuban Government, which in the early days, out of distrust, mar-ginó; credibility with the Government and the Catholic Church in the United States. Proof of this are the aids achieved by Cardinal Ortega for the Church in Cuba, especially for pastoral and social action with the most disadvantaged and impoverished in Cuban society.
True to the motto of his pontificate who prays on his shield: “My grace is sufficient” (the grace of God), my friend, Cardinal Jaime Ortega faithfully served the Church and the Gospel by navigating between applause and vituperios, between misunderstandings and recognitions, between the glory of serving God and the sacrifice for coherence and adherence to the cross of Christ.
Jaime Ortega: a man of letters, intellectual and knowledgeable of several languages, with a taste for classical and simple and affable art in the close treatment lived a life of eighty-two years that builds us all and that, as I said, does not leave us indifferent.
Jaime Ortega’s life and work remains for posterity. I am sure that historical judgment will find it as what it was: a great human being, an untapped friend, an exemplary Christian and a pastor dedicated to the best causes for the good of all, especially those entrusted to him.
This is the imronta that Cardinal Jaime Ortega leaves in me and – surely – in the lives of all of us who were fortunate enough to cross his eighty-two-year journey of fruitful and unparalleled existence. May God grant us all, like him, “the prudence that makes true sages”.
Good, wise, wise and faithful servant, go to the Feast of your Lord!
Mario Paredes, Executive Chairman Somos Community Care.