Photo: The pope in Cuba
Cuba’s Catholic primate offered an appeal for forgiveness and reconciliation in a sermon that was broadcast on state television as the island’s Communist government treated Good Friday as an official holiday for the first time in half a century.
“Without forgiveness there cannot be healthy interpersonal relations, nor family life, nor social coexistence, nor reconciliation between human groups, nor within peoples, but how hard it is for us to forgive,” Cardinal Jaime Ortega said from Havana Cathedral.
The Cuban government announced last week that workers would get the day off for Good Friday, granting the request Pope Benedict XVI made of President Raul Castro during the pontiff’s March 26-28 visit to the island.
The government said, however, that it has yet to make a final decision on whether to permanently make Good Friday a public holiday, a move most Cubans would favor, judging from the comments of Havana residents who talked to Efe.
“Although our Catholic religious culture is not so deep-seated, I believe this day should be respected because it is the way to demonstrate that we respect that religion and its followers,” said Annia Gonzalez, a 22-year-old student who is not a practicing Catholic.
The Communist government’s decision more than 50 years ago to eliminate the Good Friday holiday “was a great mistake because the Cuban people are religious,” Miguel Valverde, 79, told Efe.
“That this Good Friday is being celebrated has been an achievement for society and it should be kept this way forever,” 75-year-old Aracelis Mico, who was educated by nuns, insisted.
The Vatican says more than 60 percent of Cubans are Catholic, though the local hierarchy estimates that only 1 percent of the population regularly attend Mass.
Other observers contend that the dominant form of religiosity on the island is a combination of Catholic and Afro-Cuban elements, as in Santeria.
The precedent for Benedict’s Good Friday request was set by Pope John Paul II during his historic 1998 visit to Cuba, when he persuaded then-President Fidel Castro, Raul’s older brother, to make Dec. 25 a public holiday.
Hailing the “new vigor” John Paul inspired in Cuba’s Catholic Church 14 years ago, the current pontiff used his public appearances on the island last week to demand greater freedom for the church, especially in the realms of social work and education.
Relations between church and state in Cuba are currently better than at any time since the 1959 revolution.
The unprecedented dialogue that Cardinal Ortega and Raul Castro began two years ago has already led to the release of more than 100 political prisoners.
Besides airing services from Havana Cathedral, Cuban state television is expected to broadcast footage of Pope Benedict’s Way of the Cross ceremony Friday at the Coliseum in Rome.