The Auxiliary Bishops of Havana IV

By: Monsignor Antonio Rodríguez (Father Tony)

Mons. Alfredo Víctor Petit Vergel (izquierda) y Mons. Carlos Patricio Baladrón Valdés (derecha)

The Church in Cuba (1980s)

From 1965, the number of Catholics participating in Cuban communities began to decline. Several factors contributed to this reality: migratory exodus by Camarioca to the United States (September 1965) and to Spain by José Martí airport; the emergence of the Military Production Aid Units (UMAP) in November and pressures of various kinds by the State towards believers.

In April 1980, another mass exodus occurred that began from the events that occurred at the Embassy of Peru in Havana and continued with emigration through the Port of Mariel to the United States. This reality contributed, even more, to decimate the Cuban Catholic communities, because of which the beginning of the Cuban Ecclesial Reflection (REC), a luminous idea of Msgr. Fernando Azcárate in July 1979, was postponed until October 1982. The Church was not only decimated in her membership, but somewhat disoriented in her work. The number of Cubans migrated from Mosquito Beach in Mariel who did not participate in Catholic communities was considerably higher than that of Catholics belonging to our communities. This fact deeply shocked national life. Here you saw the best and the worst of our people. Mariel’s emigration did more harm to the different levels of the revolutionary government than to the Church itself. However, the Government quickly resented the ideological-political coup suffered.

Throughout the 1980s, most Cubans, especially young people, expressed their revolutionary and atheist feeling. Many showed off their militant atheism.

Two events greatly marked the life of the decimated Catholic Church in Cuba during the 1980s: the Cuban Ecclesial Reflection (REC) and its unbeatable development from the base until its culmination with the Cuban National Ecclesial Meeting (ENEC), held in Havana in February 1986, and the national pilgrimage of the memorial cross for the five hundred years of the evangelization of America.1 This tour began in Cuba in the Cathedral of Pinar del Río on 24 February 1985, but his time in the diocese took place “without sorrow or glories”. However, something unexpected happened when on October 27, 1985, the Bishop of Pinar del Río, Msgr. José Siro González Bacallao handed over the cross to the Archbishop of Havana, Msgr. Jaime Ortega, in the cathedral of the Cuban capital.

In Havana what was desired happened and it was not known how to do it: that the mission would leave the tempo towards the houses, door to door. It surprised the great welcome given by the people, even those who inhabited the most remote citadels, the manifestation of the religious faith of the neighbors and the crowding of temples in the scheduled celebrations. In an organized way, the fifth centenary cross set about walking and preaching faith to Catholics in different communities. Significantly, the government made no public complaint about this mission. This missionary rhythm was maintained in the rest of the dioceses of Cuba; its culmination occurred in the holguinera diocese in late 1987 and early 1988.

An event outside the Church occurred in early December 1985: the publication of the book Fidel and religion. The text contained a long interview that the Dominican, not a priest, Brother Betto gave to the Cuban president on the religious issue. With the book, in my opinion, two results were achieved: the average Cuban began to incorporate into his subconscious that there was no opposition between the religious being and the Revolution, which helped break down discriminatory barriers to religions and religious. On the other hand, Fidel Castro showed his undisputed leadership within the Cuban Communist Party and the Revolution. It all happened at a time when, although we didn’t know it in Cuba, state communism was beginning to collapse in the Soviet Union and the rest of the European East countries.

Situation of the Church in the 1990s

A political event marked this decade and the following: the Fourth Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) held in Santiago de Cuba on October 15, 1991. From now on, the religious could be PCC militants, which was a shock in national life. Overnight the churches began to increase their turnout in the various celebrations. In many of them, they did not reach the banks to seat the participants. It seemed a lie to see so many children and young people that day by day they attended our catechesis. We had no spaces to place them. Similarly, the number of baptisms of children increased, and the request for adults to be baptized also reached insurmountable figures throughout the history of the Church in Cuba. To this situation, synthetically outlined, the Church responded with the appointment of four new auxiliary bishops for the dioceses of Cuba: the first for Cienfuegos, another for Camaguey and two for the Archdiocese of Havana. On 15 November 1991, Pope John Paul II appointed Archbishop Jaime Ortega two auxiliary bishops: Msgr. Alfredo Petit Vergel and Father Carlos Baladrón Valdés, until that time an incardinated priest in the Archdiocese of Santiago de Cuba.

Msgr. Alfredo Víctor Petit Vergel (1936)

He was born in a clinic of the time, whose building no longer exists in the Calzada del Cerro, called Asociación Cubana. He was baptized there, given the mother’s delicate state of health in childbirth. His baptism is located in the parish of Our Lady of pilar. July 24, 1936 is the date of his birth. His father was a prestigious otolaryngologist, poet, declamator and pleasant rapporteur, who had studied at the College of Bethlehem in Havana. He gave the son the same name. Her mother was a nurse and her name was Guillermina.

The family residence was fixed in a house on San Miguel Street, near the magnificent premises of the University Catholic Group, current school of Psychology of the University of Havana.

The first two grades of primary education were held in a private lay school, in which the subject of Religion was taught and, in this way, took the First Communion in the parish of Nuestra Señora del Carmen in this city. The father gave him to choose the religious school where he wanted to study. The boy Alfredo asked to study at the Colegio La Salle, Vedado, where he graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Science and Letters. In 1954 he entered the Seminary El Buen Pastor de Arroyo Arenas. There he studied theology until the first year, but at the end of this course, in 1959, the apostolic administrator full headquarters of Havana, Msgr. Evelio Díaz Cía, sent three seminarians to study theology at the Gregorian University of Rome. These were future priests Alfredo Petit, Carlos Manuel de Céspedes (died 2014) and engineer Luis Casabón (2014).

The three Cuban seminarians were ordained priests on December 23, 1961, by the Italian cardinal Antonio Samoré, in the chapel of the Latin American Pio College in Rome. Father Petit completed his third course in Theology in the spring of 1963. His thesis was on dogmatic theology. He immediately obtained government permission to return to Cuba and as early as that summer was appointed by Msgr. Evelio Díaz, parish priest of the Sagrario of the Holy Metropolitan Cathedral Church of Havana. Soon after, he went to reside with the Archbishopric of Havana for the purpose of accompanying the lone archbishop.

In the third week of June 1966 he received a subpoena to appear in the second call of the UMAP,2 that were located in different territories of the former province of Camaguey. From whatever it was at the time, the Havana Forest Garden was moved on a Leyland bus, next to a Jehovah’s Witness and the rest of the car seats occupied by common prisoners of Prince’s Castle, to a camp in Camaguey. The bus was guarded by some military personnel. The common prisoners treated him with great respect, because he was a priest.

Upon arrival at the camp, the perimeter fence of the camp was not built. Father Petit and another recruit were assigned the task of lifting it with barbed wire. They both had to do it without protective gloves. When they were finished, their hands were destroyed.

The military in his unit allowed him to keep the Bible. At UMAP, Father Petit carried out a beautiful priestly work that included the clandestine celebration of Mass in the reedland near the camp. At night, together with the Catholics of the hostel, he celebrated the liturgy of the Word, for this purpose he was helped by the Bible he preserved; then he continued with the liturgical Eucharist thanks to the wine pregnant in medicine jars and ostias that his parents cautiously took him to visits.

In early 1967, there was a military order through which those over the age of twenty-seven were removed from the UMAP. The three priests recruited in the second call, fathers Jaime Ortega and Armando Martínez, both from the Diocese of Matanzas, and the Habanero father Petit, were among those benefited by this order. Father Petit returned to his family in the second half of March. A few days later, Archbishop Evelio Díaz entrusted him with the parish of the Savior of the World on the Hill. There he was until July 1984 doing a beautiful pastoral work, especially with young and sick people from the surrounding hospitals.

In February 1970, the new Archbishop, Archbishop Francisco Oves, appointed him chancellor of the Archdiocese of Havana. In this position he remained until 1975. On 13 September 1976, the Archbishop himself reported the news that Pope Paul VI honored Father Petit and four more Haban priests with the dignity of chaplain of honor. From that moment on he could be called a monsignor.

In February 1980, the apostolic administrator full seat of Havana, Msgr. Pedro Meurice appointed him again chancellor of the Archdiocese. In July 1981, at the request of the Episcopal Conference of Cuba, he assumed as rector of the Seminary San Carlos y San Ambrosio. At the same time he continued to be parish priest of his church on the Hill.

At the conclusion of his work at the seminary, in July 1984, the new Archbishop of Habanero, Archbishop Jaime Ortega entrusted him with the parish of San Francisco de Paula in La Víbora. On 15 November 1991, Pope John Paul II appointed him auxiliary bishop of Havana, a responsibility he held until the end of April 2016 when Pope Francis, for reasons of age, accepted the resignation he had presented to Pope Benedict XVI five years earlier.

Msgr. Alfredo Petit received episcopal ordination from Archbishop Jaime Ortega on Sunday, January 12, 1992 at the Cathedral of Havana. The co-consecrated bishops were Bishops Pedro Meurice and José Siro González.

As auxiliary bishop of Havana, Archbishop Ortega appointed him vicar general and entrusted him with the vicarage of Viper, Calabazar, Santiago de las Vegas, Rincón, the south center of Havana and the Island of Youth, and also led the episcopal commission of ecumenism and taught Canon Law at the seminary in Havana. In July 2012, Cardinal Ortega appointed him judicial vicar of the Archdiocese of Havana, a responsibility he still has. Until last year he taught parish management classes at the seminary. In my seminarian years he was my professor of Patrology and Ecumenism.

On August 27, 2017, he ceased as parish priest of his beloved church in San Francisco de Paula.

Msgr. Carlos Patricio Baladrón Valdés (1945)

He was appointed auxiliary bishop of Havana on November 15, 1991. He received episcopal ordination for the laying on of the hands of Archbishop Jaime Ortega in the parish church of the Most Pure Conception of Manzanillo on January 5, 1992. The co-consecrated bishops were Archbishops Pedro Meurice and Héctor Peña.

Msgr. Baladrón was born on March 17, 1945 in Campechuela, Manzanillo. He worked as an office worker when he entered the Seminary San Basilio el Magno de El Cobre in 1966. The following year, along with other seminarians, he was called to the Compulsory Military Service, where he remained until July 1970. He then continued his priestly studies at the San Carlos and San Ambrosio Seminary in Havana. On 12 April 1977 he was ordained a priest by Msgr. Pedro Claro Meurice in the parish church of Manzanillo. He was a parish priest in different places in the former Archdiocese of Santiago de Cuba such as Guantanamo and Manzanillo itself.

In Havana he was vicar general, responsible for Vicaría Episcopal de Regla, Guanabacoa, Santa Cruz del Norte and the East-South area of the Havana archdiocese.

At the Holy Mass celebrated by St. John Paul II in Santiago de Cuba on January 24, 1998, the Pope himself announced the creation of the new Diocese of Guantanamo and the appointment of Msgr. Baladrón as his first bishop. It has the merit of having set out to walk a diocese with the organization of its diocesan structures, among which is the construction of many cult ranches in the vast easternmost rural area of Cuba.

In July 2006, Pope John Paul II accepted the resignation for health reasons from the government of the Guantanamera diocese. He currently resides in a home for retired priests from the Archdiocese of Miami. Ω

Notes

1 This cross is one of the various copies that were made and delivered at the end of 1984 by St John Paul II to bishops representing the different Latin American countries so that from 1985 until 1992 they would tour the different places of each country.

2 The Military Production Aid Units (UMAP) included different camps located in the former province of Camaguey. They recruited people who were considered un sympathetic to the revolutionary process, common prisoners, Catholics, Protestants, pastors of various religious denominations, members of syncretic religions, people of antisocial behavior and, among others, homosexuals. The regime of these units exceeded the most rigorous of military type. Military preparation was small relative to nearly fourteen hours of agricultural work. My generation was contemporary to UMAP. The stories of the recruits are quite sad. At that time and now I wonder: how could this happen? I consider UMAP to be a dark moment in Cu’s story

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