Grateful Memory of Cuban Ecclesial Reflection (REC) and the Cuban National Ecclesial Meeting (ENEC)
Thirty-five years ago, on Sunday, February 23, 1986, the Cuban National Ecclesial Meeting (ENEC) was closed in Havana Cathedral with a mass presided over by Cardinal Eduardo Pironio, papal envoy for this assembly. On the facade of the temple you could read a large poster that summarized the desire of thousands of Catholics: “Church without borders, solidarity in love”. The week of discussion of the ENEC and the five-year consultation process that preceded it, known as Cuban Ecclesial Reflection (REC), can be considered as the most important synodal experience of the Cuban Church in its more than five centuries of history and the best reception of the Second Vatican Council in a sui generis environment such as Caribbean socialism.
In the inaugural address of ENEC Msgr. Adolfo Rodríguez, then president of the Episcopal Conference, he characterized this meeting as the “most ecclesial and at the same time the least clerical in Cuban history”. Most of the delegates were lay people (110), along with priests (39), religious (22), religious brothers (two) and the eight Cuban bishops. As papal envoy he was appointed Argentine Cardinal Eduardo Pironio. EnEC delegates were 115 men (64%) 66 women (36%) at an average age of forty-one years, a surprising figure in a Church that for many was destined to become extinct after the triumph of the Revolution in 1959.
Three celebrations marked the dynamics of enEC that cannot be reduced to its Final Document: the visit-pilgrimage to the Aula Magna of the University of Havana, the cultural evening at the Seminary San Carlos and San Ambrosio and the reception in the Apostolic Nunciature. The first two were held on the afternoon-night of 19 February and had as their common element the figure of Fr. Félix Varela. The pilgrimage to the tomb of this priest was a challenge for both the Church and the State. Faced with a government policy that looked with suspicion at Catholics and even discriminated against their entry into certain university careers, THE ENEC claimed the political role of the Christian faith and the right of the faithful in the construction of the common good. This message also was a challenge for those believers who preferred to stay out of politics and take refuge in their religious practices. The cultural evening at the Seminary served to pay homage to the center where Felix Varela taught. In that night’s central discourse, Cintio Vitier defined the Seminary as “the first spiritual manifestation of our nationality”, where Christian ethics were infused into the Cuban soul. Visits to the Magna Classroom and the Seminary symbolically reaffirmed that fidelity to the Church and the homeland was not at odds. The reception offered on 20 February at the Nunciature was another milestone in the presence of some government authorities who honored in this way the uninterrupted diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Cuba since 1935. The culmination of ENEC was the public beginning of the process of beatification of Fr. Varela by the archdiocese of Havana. This priest and patriot thus became the fundamental paradigm of the Cuban Church in the new socio-political context.
The Importance of Hearing everyone’s Voice (REC)
Although important, ENEC cannot be separated from the extensive process of consultation and participation that the Cuban Church developed during the previous five years (REC). This process involved not only a small group of lay people, religious and priests who could be imprisoned with an elitist mindset, but all Christian communities throughout the island.
In early 1979, the Third General Conference of the Latin American Episcopate was held in Puebla, Mexico. On his return, Carmelite Marciano García suggested the possibility of celebrating a “Puebla para Cuba”, an idea taken up by Bishop Emeritus of Havana Fernando Azcárate SJ in the priestly coexistences of 1979. A year later, the Episcopal Conference hosted the project and elected Msgr. Adolfo Rodríguez to organize the first steps. In April 1981, a team chaired by him drafted a short “roadmap” which was later known as the “Camaguey Document” calling for a process involving the entire Church, not just the clergy and a lay elite. It was concluded in Camaguey that a new episcopal text or theological study was not needed but “an Ecclesial Reflection with the greatest participation of the entire Cuban Church, on evangelization in the present and future of the Cuban people, in the Latin American context, in the light of Vatican II, Medellin and Puebla”. From then on, the preparatory commission was expanded with the inclusion of lay people, religious and other priests.
The first task of this committee was to draft a historical framework of evangelization in Cuba and to conduct a survey on various aspects of the Church on the island. The first REC consultation was able to promote a process of reflection and participation in all communities. In February 1983, members of this team and the Episcopal Conference met at the Copper Shrine. Since then the preparatory commission was chaired by the new Archbishop of Habanero Jaime Ortega and the schedule of the process was defined with a stable secretariat led by Fr. Bruno Roccaro SDB.
In June 1984, a new meeting was held to analyze the data of the first survey and propose a new cycle of consultations. This new round was intended for various sectors of the Church and sought to develop the first data collected. Among the themes proposed were the positive and negative elements of Cuban idiosyncrasies and how they had an impact on the mission of the Church. It was also asked to clarify what was understood by evangelization, what opportunities the Church found for it, and called for three priority measures to carry out this mission. One of the fundamental concerns of Cuban Catholics was to “preserve and maintain faith” in a hostile environment. The 1984 consultation round sought to identify concrete means of achieving this goal, distinguished the responsibility of believers in tensions with the political system, and how Christian witness could be perceived as a reconciling element. This reflection helped believers not only be regarded as victims, but also as citizens with full rights. Such a change of mindset required a long process from which rec could only take the first steps. The data collected in this round were organized and argued theologically in the Consultation Document (DC) which was again returned to the different communities for discussion. The fruit of these discussions was felt in a Contribution Document by each diocese.
The last stage of the REC was the holding of the diocesan assemblies where the Contribution Document of the respective local Church was analyzed and its most controversial points were discussed and voted on. The final moment of these assemblies was the election of a part of the delegates to the ENEC. The proposals for these meetings were grouped taking into account the convergence of issues and the Working Paper (DT) was drafted which would serve as the basis for the national meeting.
The face of the Cuban Church
Cuando leemos las actas (inéditas) de las asambleas diocesanas que tuvieron lugar en 1985, nos sorprende la actualidad de algunas propuestas y la libertad con que se admitieron ideas diversas sin que ello afectara la unidad de la Iglesia. En estos encuentros se logró superar una mentalidad competitiva entre los diversos carismas eclesiales donde el liderazgo laical podía ser visto como un menoscabo del rol de los pastores.
El consenso que emergió de la REC no nació de la uniformidad de criterios ni de la simple obediencia de las líneas pastorales trazadas por la jerarquía. La REC rechazó explícitamente la figura del sacerdocio como una casta separada de la comunidad y para ello abogó por estructuras de participación laical en la programación eclesial, lo cual se tradujo en la creación de los consejos pastorales diocesanos integrados por laicos, religiosas y presbíteros bajo la presidencia del obispo. También se pidió un rol activo de las comunidades en la formación de los sacerdotes, con lo que se superaba la invitación a simplemente orar por las vocaciones y apoyar económicamente el seminario. Estos encuentros pidieron espacios de formación para agentes pastorales, hombres y mujeres, que los capacitaran para el acompañamiento espiritual, los ministerios de la palabra y de la eucaristía que hasta ese momento desempeñaban de facto por la carencia de clero. La dimensión profética de este proceso se evidenció en la calificación respetuosa de los cubanos del exilio como “hermanos” y “parte del pueblo” cuando el discurso oficial los catalogaba como “escorias”.
La misión de la Iglesia en Cuba fue sintetizada en el ENEC en dos capítulos: “Fe y sociedad” y “Fe y cultura”, donde se asume una postura crítica sobre la realidad nacional pero se evita un juicio destructor de la misma que llevara a considerar los cristianos como enemigos. Una de las conclusiones de todo este itinerario fue apostar por una Iglesia dialogante, ad intra y ad extra, que pudiera convertirse en sacramento de reconciliación en medio de una sociedad polarizada ideológicamente. Para ello se rechazó la doble tentación de convertirse en un movimiento opositor o una sucursal religiosa del sistema político. El ENEC reconoció no solo los aportes que los cristianos podían ofrecer a la sociedad, sino también cómo el socialismo contribuía a una mejor comprensión del evangelio. Aunque estas consideraciones podían ser interpretadas como la asimilación acrítica de los delegados ante el marxismo, se debe reconocer que ellos no asumieron la Teología de la Reconciliación del sacerdote francés René David Roset. Este teólogo y profesor del seminario habanero defendía la sociedad sin clases y la propiedad común sobre los medios de producción como el modelo político-económico más semejante al ideal evangélico. La Iglesia no podía, por ello, permanecer al margen de tal proceso político y debía reconciliarse con el comunismo. A pesar de la autoridad moral del P. René David y sus aportes a la REC y al ENEC, los delegados a este evento decidieron preservar la legítima diversidad de opciones políticas y la no identificación del socialismo como el único modelo posible para realizar la vocación política del cristiano. Tales discusiones hoy nos pudieran parecer obsoletas, pero en 1986 muy pocos imaginaban el derrumbe del comunismo en Europa del Este.
El ENEC concibió la misión eclesial como “una conciencia crítica dentro del compromiso serio con la sociedad”. Creo que la postura de la Iglesia cubana, a partir del ENEC, haccentuated each of the two poles of this phrase, according to the personal convictions of its leaders and the different circumstances of Cuba’s recent history. The dream of an incarnate Church, which formulated this assembly, demands on the one hand the cooperation of Christians with all the forces that promote “the spiritual, moral, social, economic, political and cultural progress of society”. For ENEC delegates, solidarity with the positive values of the political system and the coherence of Christian life itself were the means par excellence for social commitment. On the other hand, the mission of reconciliation meant “to be the voice of those who have no voice in society: the poor, the despised, the marginalized…”. The Church dreamed of being a space where all voices were welcomed, also those that did not repeat official ideology, even if this position brought misunderstanding and criticism. Even anticipating difficult situations that soon appeared after ENEC, its delegates did not want to renounce the vocation of dialogue “with the freedom of the prophet […] and the prudence of the pedagoguus.”
A balance sheet thirty-five years away
At the closing session of the ENEC, Msgr. Adolfo Rodríguez, on behalf of the Episcopal Conference, declared “the formal recognition of the bishops to the ENEC Document, its value, its meanings, its destiny, its letter and its spirit”. At this time, the ENEC Final Document had not yet been drafted, but would be drawn up from plenary discussions. Msgr. Adolfo’s words implicitly stated that the results of ENEC should not be simply consultative in nature from now on, but would set the course for the Cuban Church. Not only were the content agreed in this assembly valued, but also its “spirit”, i.e. the model of participation of the whole Church during the five years of the REC. It would be wrong to consider ENEC as a one-off event, very significant but temporarily isolated. Its value can only be explained from the REC itinerary, where pastors and faithful were educated in mutual listening and mutual responsibility for the future of the Church.
The words of Msgr. Adolphus involved, in its most radical sense, the commitment to a Church defined as communion and participation, according to the Puebla Conference. Vatican II had assumed the status of People of God to underline the common dignity of all the baptized and their responsibility in the building up of the Church before stopping to explain the diversity of ministries within them. Much better than all its contents, the style of rec and ENEC showed how the teachings of the Council had been received by the Cuban Church at the time.
This was the prophetic sign of this journey beyond its specific decisions that must be framed in a certain historical context.
From REC and ENEC the Cuban Church intensified its evangelizing work, aware that it had good news to offer to a people who dreamed of building an alternative model of society. Numerous Catholic institutions and publications that began to develop in successive years showed a new facet of the Church, beyond the parish work to which it had become practically confined in the early years of the Revolution. On the other hand, the collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe a few years later and the serious economic crisis that Cuba faced thereafter made many of the conclusions of this process questionable, but not its style. In the years that follow, it was not possible to maintain the same level of lay participation that characterized this path. The most obvious proof of this is that thirty-five years later we have not been able to institutionalize an intra-church dialogue space such as the REC, which would enable the challenges of a context that has varied faster together than the first twenty-five years of the Socialist Revolution. With the arrival in Cuba of numerous pastoral workers and the overcoming of certain material restrictions for the Church, it has also fallen back to the prominence of the laity who have become, in many cases, good executors of the decisions of the hierarchy, according to the pre-reconciled mentality. To some extent we have returned, at least theoretically, to a model of the pyramidal Church that characterized the regime of Christianity.
The REC and ENEC process remains an inescapable reference and perhaps the most important event of the entire Cuban Church in its five centuries of history, where for the first time all the people of God, pastors and faithful, dreamed together of a common future. Would we dare try again? Ω