Those who do not live to serve…

By: Joeluis Cerutti Torres

It has recently been five years since Pope Francis made a pastoral visit to Cuba and pronounced as a close to the homily of mass in Plaza José Martí the phrase “Who does not live to serve, does not serve to live”. The following days allowed me to discover, in conversations with friends from the parish and the university, that this sticky invocation of the Pope had gone deep into the young people. Even today, my sister’s room has these letters painted on the wall, so as not to forget them. If in El Cobre he invited us to live the Revolution of Tenderness, in the three speeches of Havana, Francis had already explained the pillars of this Revolution: service, poverty and hope.

The Pontiff began the homily of that Sunday in Havana by asking: “What do you talk about every day? What are your aspirations?” The encounter with these questions in re-ousing the Pope five years later became necessary and current reflection. In the speeches given in Havana there are clues to give an answer from the Gospel to the questions, aspirations and fears of today’s Cuba.

My “bubble” speaks today, more than ever, the bitter language of hopelessness, sadness and uncertainty. Comments on currency exchange, circulation and holding of freely convertible currency (MLC), exchange rates and “zero day” dates come out in any conversation and always bring out a share of insecurity and fears never evident. Guts, colonels and lemons fill memes that try to put some laughter to the disappointment and nonconformity generated by these realities. Queues, desupply, fines, coleros and resellers add to the despair and generate a good dose of impotence. These are all ubiquitous themes: they happen, relieve, exchange and mix with the Covid-19. They are always, in memes or in academic analysis, being accompanied by a bitter taste. No one is left out of so many questions put on the table; the most urgent: what aspirations can I have here and now?

Visita de S.S. Francisco a Cuba
Visita de S.S. Francisco a Cuba


In the pope’s homily we find that “Jesus does not fear the questions of men”. Jesus doesn’t censor! And Francis goes on to argue, “Jesus, true to his style, manages to give an answer capable of posing a new challenge, depositioning ‘the expected answers'”.

Jesus walks and suffers with us, comes up and asks what we are talking about, and draws our gaze from the sadness that clouds and prevents us from creating, of the “save who can” with which we naturally respond to fear. “We are all called by Christian vocation to the service it serves and to help each other not to fall into the temptations of ‘service that is served’. We are all invited, encouraged by Jesus to take care of each other for love.” In the midst of the growing difficulty that is lived and felt, temptation may be to lock us up, but the Pope wants us to look at the most fragile: the elderly or sick who cannot go to the queues, families who fear that the roof will fall off, young people physically and mentally exhausted, persecuted and silenced. They need to be found and served. And make sure they’re not used. The poor and the young are in all the discourses, often just to generate sympathy. Genesis’ question may haunt us: Am I responsible for my brother? What do we gain from the service? Nothing, and everything. We gain to build homeland on the solid basis of concrete man and not ideology, whatever it may be. We win to curb the chain of selfishness, division and alienation that makes us despair.


Later, in the Habanera cathedral, Francis throws a phrase like fire: “Love poverty as a mother […] After all, let us not forget that it is the first of the Beatitudes: ‘Happy the poor in spirit, those who are not attached to wealth, to the powers of this world.'”

Loving poverty is a challenge. To love poverty, which is not to romanticize it. Material and spiritual misery is not desirable. Evangelical bliss praises those who are not attached to riches or powers. This is what we must love: in short, freedom, not just press or association, freedom in the broadest sense. Wealth, by itself, is not a value; it is a means of personal and social realization, and it will not be by pursuing the individual wealth, comfort, nor power, that we will achieve Cuba better. Alternatives to the current situation cannot be tied to selfishness or opportunism. We need projects that don’t come from visceral hatreds, no long as it’s been suffered. We need leadership that is unwilling to wipe out opponents for maintaining power. We need speeches that don’t seek to gain prestige or accumulate followers and money. It’s arduous, and social media doesn’t help. So many times I find myself, in groups “contrary” to the regime, dynamics that reproduce the same intolerance that we have cultivated for years. Cuba’s future is not easy to build. We need many of those who love poverty and freedom.


A few minutes later, the Pope would end the day by speaking to young people: “In the objectivity of life has to enter the capacity to dream.” How good to repeat this phrase several times a day! Months later, in the message for World Youth Day (WYD) in Havana, I would complete this sentence by saying, “Dream that Cuba with you can be different and every day better.” Our current reality, perhaps more than that of five years ago, tries to keep us awake, alert, with our feet on the ground, however, only by dreaming first, we will be able to build later.

That day, because of the tensions I experienced before the Pope’s arrival in both the Plaza and the Cathedral, he was not prepared to understand the concept of “social friendship”. Today, five years later, I find it difficult to concretize it with those who are not willing to dialogue, but (and when much), to endure that I think differently as long as I do not exceed certain limits. However, I often read those words: “Why do we always lay the stone on what separates us, on what we are different from? Why don’t we shake hands on what we have in common?” Even if it happens to me, this is part of building Cuba: achieving projects where those that now exclude us also fit. The capacity of that friendship will make us consistent in the desire of a Cuba that discards no one. And this brings me to hope, which according to the Pope is “suffering”. “Hope knows how to suffer to carry out a project, it knows how to sacrifice.” The hope that Francis proposes is not about waiting, but about doing: to start sowing Cuba better than we are sure exists. This hope, which is fruitful and gives life, is suffered. We must know that we will suffer misunderstandings and frustrations. We’re not edulating the Pope’s message.


Five years after his visit, I releo to the Pope: Jesus, who is no stranger to what we suffer, invites us to serve, love poverty, and dream; with the tool of a social friendship that seeks to build little by little, and sustained by hope, the virtue of those who build the world better than it expects, suffering and giving life. Francis began the homily of that Sunday in Havana by asking, “What are your aspirations?” May our common aspiration be to give ourselves in service to the brother and in the construction, little by little, of cuba better. As long as we can and everyone feels that the Lord so asks of himself. That’s all; the future is only His.

My plea, the same as in that Eucharist I prayed during the preces, and which I have made mine forever is this: “We present you, good Jesus, to all our families, to the poor, sick, captive, old, to young people, that each of them may find in their way people who, animated by love for God, with mercy and dedication, comfort them”. Ω

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