Five years after his death-A priest who led to future

Reviewing the written work of Archbishop Carlos Manuel de Céspedes recalls the warning left by José Martí to Gonzalo de Quesada, referring to what could be published in case the Apostle dies in the fields of Cuba: “I entered the jungle and did not carry a branch that has no fruit”. He referred, above all, to the work dispersed in periodicals.
The martiana image comes again and again to the mind of those who try to organize the maremágnum of texts that make up the intellectual work of Father Carlos Manuel. It impresses the vastness of his legacy, still pending an order that, beyond the very useful offered by the edited books, allows the quiet, delayed study of what he left in inheritance. And it is difficult, moreover, to find him a branch without fruit.
Having his bibliography in front of him allows him to better understand why he was granted a position at the Cuban Academy of Language. It was not a question of including, with a gesture of intellectual and ideological width – which was not to say so – a cult priest and patriotic roots, but also of recognizing a wise work, written in a dense, careful style, of classical reminiscences that somehow managed to insert successfully into the mass media that counted on his participation. Baggage, charisma, courage to assume subjects that others would have cautiously avoided instead?
This work constitutes his faith of life, because it is conceived, for the most part, for the performance of his duties; that is, the work of Cespediana is the written expression of his service as pastor. “Ancillar, ” maybe he would have called her.
Well-looked at his personal history, providence is evident in everything from the beginning. In deciding on religious life, he valued the possibility of being a Trappist monk, like the American poet Thomas Merton, but an old priest, Father Ortiz de Zárate, made him see the contrasent that would mean, for in Cuba there were no Trappist brothers, which meant that he should leave the island. He then weighed the possibility of entering the Society of Jesus, but eventually decided to be diocesan.
It was also conducive for Bishop Evelio Díaz to decide on the return of the young priest in 1963 from Rome, where he studied Biblical Theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University. He had been ordained two years earlier. He returned with a bachelor’s degree, and barely worked for a time at the Archbishopric, because he soon had to join the Seminary El Buen Pastor. These were very uncertain times.
Between 1963 and 1966 he was vice-chancellor. Then, until 1970, he assumed the rectory, which means that he dealt with the charged atmosphere left by the discoveries between the civil authorities and Archbishop Eduardo Boza Masvidal. He faced the closing process of El Buen Pastor and the reopening of San Carlos and San Ambrosio with a very clear idea: we had to continue.
As if that were not enough, in 1964, after the death of Father Ignacio Biaín, director of the magazine La Quincena, the bishop appointed him to replace the Franciscan priest in the religious column of the newspaper El Mundo.
That is, it had to cover, simultaneously, “fronts” that had been led by prestigious priests, but with very different ways of inserting themselves into the fledgling ideological context of the country. After all, it was like joining “tips of the same bond,” though it was surely difficult work.
From the pages of El Mundo he had a controversy with philosophy professor Aurelio Alonso, who wrote in El Caimán Barbudo, about the Hungarian documentary “In Six Days?”, which questioned Judeo-Christian cosmogony. Both “opponents” always acknowledged that this confrontation cemented a good friendship, although De Céspedes, for his part, once claimed that Luis Gómez Wangemert, editor of the newspaper, let him know that in the confrontation was the cause of the column “Catholic World” disappearing.
But the important thing now, in an article that only pretends to be brief reflection on what seems to have constituted a persistent eagerness in his life, is to understand that this man was always in the ring, and never in the less belligerent area, though always with thought as adarga.
He must have perceived it, although by substantiated the title of volume With blood and from the wheel, which opens the Works published by the Editorial Boloña at the behing of Father Manuel Uña, he only explained: “If I have titled the whole with such a bullfighting term […] it is because all these texts are the result of a singular combat, in which understanding and aesthetic sensitivity come in […] The blood thing, because all my texts, whatever their nature, have born me from the living, bloody bowel. Amen that some of them have cost me ‘blood’.”
Follow him on course, so in great steps, and it will be seen that Monsignor De Céspedes was always in trenches whose goal was never to fight to “win”, but to open channels to advance. Always.
And not just in Cuba. There they are, and for the most part, that only a few examples will be referred to, their founding participation in what are now the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity and the Pontifical Council for Relations with the World of Culture.
That’s why various opinions about his legacy are included as part of this article. Some idea may be reiterated in part, but the intention is that different views, multi-faceted appreciations, differences and slight but definite nuances will appear; and also constant appreciation and criteria, whether priests or lay people, young people or mature people, believers or atheists, aunts or Trojans.
There they are, too, his dedication to the National Christian Ecclesial Meeting, which had him as a very enthusiastic promoter. And in the difficult nineties, he was one of the founders of the New Word, which began as a few humble leaves and then became an entire magazine. In addition, at the same time he created the Archdiocesan Center for Studies and its Vivarium organ…
He helped conceive all that, no matter the inexperience caused by many years of silence, or the precariousness of the media; saw him swell, encouraged him with his wisdom, and prestige him with his signature. Even, shortly before he died, he had been appointed advisor to Lay Space, at a time when the latter publication seemed to need a compass like his own.
Some recognize its merits, but reject any reluctance to realities that they believe should have earned their public disapproval, or at least explicit esttachment. Certainly, not all, nor always, understood their silences or their enthusiasms. But that he did not consider it an impassable abyss for communication, and even for rapprochement and friendship, because he knew that difference and dissent are at the basis of any forward-looking re-knowledge.
Not to be understood that, like every public figure, he was necessarily unable to divulge everything he should have done to mitigate tensions and tears. He was convinced that the story of any stage should be written after a reasonable time, when the protagonists are no longer present and, removing the tide, exposes evidence hidden by immediacy, prudence and passions.
He put it this way: “This is how I have lived my priesthood; with that passion for cuba as a whole, that on one side, that of the other; although he did not share, of course, all positions, either on one side or the other; and for the Church, where there were also disparate criteria. With my brethren of the Church I have shared the same faith, but not always the same attitude towards different realities. However, I was always loyal to the Church and her authority: that is a fact.”
In relation to his existential coherence, the loyalty and obedience to which he was forced with his vows, he left a comparison that could well characterize his entire trajectory: “towards the [future] we all move forward with dissimile pace and pace, tying a few times at night; others, more accurately, when luminosities abound; in union with the herd or according to our own air, as a good maverick (in the Anglo-Saxon sense of the term: person or cattle that is not easily classified, who does not always walk with the group, who has his own path but who, in short, helps the group to find the route that is his own, the one suitable to reach his goals…)”.
Probably that was, above all, a maverick who was sometimes able to give the impression, to the clueless eye or outside the ecclesial sphere, who distanced himself from the path chosen by himself, but Father Carlos Manuel always made very clear that condition that not by taste, above all recognized values, emphasized his bishop, Cardinal Jaime Ortega , at the Mass of exequias: he was a priest, in tune with the Church that he had to share and exalt.
Those who knew him well know that, indeed, in addition to the best epitaph, priest is the praise that would have rejoiced him most today. That and, of course, that they remembered him “always a Cuban.” Ω

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