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Friday, February 3, 2012

The Pope, the Dictator and my Wife…

I love my wife.

She is smart, confident, self-reliant and doesn’t shy away from standing up and speaking out for what she believes, even when it doesn’t agree with others around her.

In fact, aside from her beauty (let’s be real), her intellect and passion were some of the reasons I fell in love with her on our first date (she could hold a conversation about almost anything!).

I sometimes wish I could be more like her or my late grandfather, who as Cubans say, never had “hair in his tongue” for telling people what was on his mind. In other words, he told it like it is; like it or leave it.

However, my wife’s passion can sometimes lead to differences between us, especially considering that I can also be passionate as well.  And, she can be as stubborn as a mule (although I should say horse, since a mule is too close to a donkey, the mascot of the dark side!).  Then again, I can be a bit hard headed myself.

Like most Cuban-Americans that live in Miami, she is fervent about her disdain for Cuba’s communist government.

Fidel Castro
Maybe, it is the way she was brought up. Her father trained to fight in the Bay of Pigs, although he was never sent, and taught his daughters about Fidel Castro’s betrayal of our people and his murderous wrath against opponents.

Or it could be the fact that her mother came during Operation Peter Pan, where about fourteen thousand children were sent by their parents to Miami in coordination with the Roman Catholic Church, as word started spreading that the Cuban government intended to take kids away from their families and send them into Soviet-style work camps.

Or, maybe, it’s the fact that she has spent the last 19 years of her life working for one of the strongest critics of the Cuban regime, retired U.S. Congressman Lincoln Diaz Balart, and has been very involved in the plight for the freedom of Cuba.

In any case, there is absolutely no compromise in many Cuban-Americans when it comes to dealing with the Cuban dictatorship, which is responsible for the deaths of thousands over the last five decades, the separation of the Cuban people and the confiscation of property, including lifelong businesses, homes and estates.

So, a few nights ago, when I told my wife that my station was requesting credentials for me to go to Cuba to cover Pope Benedict XVI’s visit next month to the island for the 400th anniversary of the appearance of the image of La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre (aka Our Lady of Charity) to three fishermen on the Bay of Nipe, she got a bit upset.

“You volunteered, didn’t you?” she asked in an indignant tone. (Talk about being caught between "the" Rock and a hard place!)

No, I can honestly say I did not ask to go, even when other co-workers did, although, as a Cuban, born on the island (but here since I was five), a Catholic, and a journalist (not to mention a loyal follower of Pope Benedict), I think it’s an opportunity of a lifetime.

I have never traveled or, in all honesty, had any interest in traveling to Cuba; at least while the communist government was in control.

Servant of the Servants of God
In fact, my father got out just before state security officers came knocking at my grandparents’ house to arrest him under suspicion of assisting the contra-revolution.

He could have been one of the tens of thousands of political prisoners that were thrown into Cuban jails after sham trials and locked away for decades or faced a firing squad.

Like many exile kids, my brother and I could have grown up without our father.

I figured, as my parents engrained in us, as long as Fidel Castro and his regime were in power, we had nothing to do in Cuba, despite still having family there, on my father’s side.

In fact, one of the few times I remember seeing my dad cry was the day he was driving me to high school, when I was in tenth grade, after hearing that his father had died in Cuba.

He told me, “Do you know what one of the hardest things in life is? It’s having your father die and not being able to even attend his funeral.” I have never forgotten that.

It is a story often repeated in the Cuban exile experience, especially among the early arrivals, who would come because of political and religious persecution, and understood they could never go back while the dictatorship was in power.

Needless to say, fifty years later, there remains a lot of pain. There are still many open wounds and resentment.  Forgiveness and healing of this magnitude takes time; although for some it may be easier then others.

The Cuban Catholic Church, which was a powerful social force when the revolution triumphed, soon came under fire by the new atheistic communist regime; who blamed the Church for collaborating with counter-revolutionaries and the Bay of Pigs invaders.

Catholics were persecuted, parishes and properties were seized, schools were shut down and hundreds of clergy were forced to leave the island (over 80 percent of religious).

The Church was left debilitated and forced into hiding.

However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba adopted a more lenient position on religion and the Church began to reemerge from the shadows again.

The Pope and the Dictator
In 1998, Bl. Pope John Paul II made a historic visit to the island.

Many, who had witnessed the pontiff bring down communism in Poland, Europe and the Soviet Union, without a shot being fired, were hopeful of a similar consequence in Cuba.  It never materialized.

Nevertheless, the relationship between the Church and the government began to improve, much to the dismay of some exiles, who as I stated, because of all the water that has passed under the bridge, will never compromise on their firmness against the regime.

The fact that Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the highest ranking Church official on the island, has never been an outspoken critic of the government’s human rights abuse, lack of basic freedoms, and oppressive control over society, has left much to be desired among exiles.  Many see him as nothing more than a puppet of the dictatorship and kowtow to governmental whims.

While repressive state security officers have beaten and arrested a group of women protesters, who each week march to their parish dressed in white, in prayer and openly calling for the liberation of all political prisoners, and when dissidents have starved themselves to make a point against the oppressive government, he has remained eerily silent.

Meanwhile, they claim that he is dining with dignitaries, traveling openly and living a life that the average Cuban on the island cannot live.

Fair or not, regardless of his many human weaknesses, and although he, like all Christian leaders, have an obligation to stand up for social justice, the dignity of the human person, and boldly speak the truth regardless of consequence, as the martyrs of the Church have done, it must be noted that the Church’s primary mission is not to free men from oppression and ties that bind them in this world. It is to free men’s soul from the ties that bind them in the eternal one.

We only have to look at the cross to understand that, unfortunately, at times, we may have to suffer in life.  (Not to mention, Liberation Theology, as Jeremiah Wright and many others, including Catholics, around the world preach, is condemned by the Church)

As a matter of fact, in The Beatitudes, Jesus makes clear that the poor, the hungry, the downtrodden and the persecuted are really more blessed than we are.  Looking at it from a human perspective, maybe not so much, but God doesn't look at human suffering with our lenses.    

Anyway, at the risk of airing some dirty laundry, all that is to set up the story I first started telling you about my wife.

For many Cuban exiles, including my wife, the fact that Pope Benedict is traveling to Cuba is bad enough in it of itself.  It represents millions of dollars for the government from visiting press and pilgrims, including a group from Miami.

But, making it worse, is the fact that the pope is going to be received by Raul Castro, the current leader of the regime, and later, during his trip, is scheduled to meet with the Fidel, who is now retired and suffering health issues.

"Why doesn’t he meet with Cuban dissidents?" she asked during our discussion.

Keep in mind that Jesus Christ said that it is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick. He did not come to call on the righteous but the sinners. Let’s just say, Castro, who attended a Catholic school while growing up, might fit that description.

"Are you questioning the pope?” I asked, as I felt a rush of emotion overcome me. “How do you know what the pope is going to talk to Fidel about?”

Of course, that's no consolation to those who feel betrayed or had to endure suffering at the hands of the Cuban dictator.

Our Lady of Charity
I must admit, it didn’t help that I was a bit animated and condescending. I have a tendency of being self-righteous.  It's one of my many faults and, unfortunately, my wife knows it well.

But, in my mind, I couldn’t fathom how anyone, politics aside, and I wasn’t just thinking about my wife but all the recent critics, can second guess the actions of the successor of Peter; who Christ gave the keys to the kingdom and authority to lead His Church.  As self-righteous as I can be, I am not going to second guess the intentions of the Bishop of Rome!

Sure, there have been a handful of popes in the Church’s two thousand year history that have not necessarily been upstanding citizens in their personal lives, but none ever taught error or led the flock astray.

They may have acted hypocritically, as the sinners that they were (aren't we all?), but they never misled the faithful into accepting their lifestyles as an example of Christian living.

In other words, I believe that just as I am called to follow Christ, I am also called to follow the Church, His Body, the “pillar and foundation of truth,” which Jesus founded upon the Rock of Peter, and has had an unbroken line of succession from generation to generation until today.

Unfortunately, my wife didn't care much for any of my brilliant arguments or my passion (which, in retrospect, may have come on a tad too strong!).  I've been in the dog house ever since.

It's like the old saying, "Would you want to be right, or be happy?"  Obviously, as the old Holy Grail Knight in the last scene of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, would say, I chose poorly.

Of course, my wife would argue that I definitely wasn't right and, at least at this point, I am not happy either.

In any case, I’m not even sure that I will be approved for press credentials by the Cuban government. The Castro government has a very negative opinion of the Miami press corps, especially my station, which they call a mouthpiece of  the “Cuban Mafia.”

Chances are that I may never be allowed to enter Cuba (and they may be even less after this blog!).  But, if I am, it’s an opportunity I can’t pass up, regardless of politics in or outside my house; even at the risk of staying in the Espinosa dog house for a little while longer.

As the great G.K. Chesterton once wrote, "Marriage is an adventure, like going to war."  Sometimes, it certainly is, especially when ego and pride get in the way, but I wouldn't change a thing...


Tito Edwards said...

Excellent post.

I feel for you.

In the end I would make my wife happy, but the right thing to do is to go.

To plant seeds among the Cuban people.

I liked the quote from G.K. Chesterton, "Marriage is an adventure, like going to war."


In Jesus, Mary, & Joseph,


Jorge Costales said...

Interesting post - I thought that you were too -- as is commendably your nature -- charitable towards Cardinal Ortega. Here's why.

As a fellow practicing Catholic, priests like Cardinal Ortega present a challenge to the faithful similar to the point in time at which there was no denying the acts of pedophile priests and how some in the Church protected them. How to reconcile shameful acts by those who we believe to be apostolic successors.

For me, the answer lies in the realization that priests really are human, with all that entails. In the case of Cardinal Ortega, it highlights how unfortunate Cuba has been, say in comparison to Poland, with the person to whom the flock was entrusted. While I have no idea how Cardinal Ortega will be judged at the end of his life -- in other words, I am not suggesting that my opinion of his ongoing cowardice constitutes unforgivable acts, that is my understanding of what it means to be judgmental, assuming to know the judgment of God -- but we have learned the hard way that our Church is not well served by ignoring priests who have demonstrably -- as in public actions over an extended period of time -- failed to live up to their challenging roles.

In the case of Cardinal Ortega cowardice may be the most charitable assessment. If he were in the Garden of Gethsemane, the odds would have been great that Judas would not have been alone in taking flight. Again, his cowardly lack of action over the years do not make him evil, just a depressingly human and unworthy apostolic successor.

Carlos Espinosa said...

Thanks, Tito and Jorge.

As for Cardinal Ortega, at the risk of taking a more liberal approach, and please don't tell my wife!, not having lived in an oppressive state, where anything I say and do is watched and Cuban security are constantly bugging phone lines and following dissenters around, it is hard for me to make wholesale judgments.

Let’s remember that Pope Pius XII was sometimes accused of not being more outspoken during the Nazi death camps, while he was maneuvering quietly behind the scenes and saving lives of Jews, and Catholics, alike, by providing safe houses and protection. In recent years, Jewish historians have admitted that if the Pope had been more vocal, more lives would have put at risk.

So, while it doesn’t look good from the outside, I cannot make an assessment on what’s going on in the trenches.

It’s a fine line to have to walk and some are better at it than others.

Carlos Espinosa said...

Hey, remember, it is a political year. I sound like I'm ready!!!

Jorge Costales said...

To press the point - gently of course - the "wholesale judgments" you note are less wholesale when you take into account the numerous dissidents [some believers, some not] who are willing to take those risks and believe likewise.

So then the point that those safely in Miami are engaged in the much dreaded "judging" -- btw my new goal in life is for someone to explain to me the difference between thinking something through and being judgmental -- is besides the point. Calling out Ortega is a way of supporting the dissidents.

Is it unreasonable to ask the Bishop of Cuba to show support for those who are persecuted by a totalitarian regime? Is an additional parish [or 10] allowed to start-up at the tail-end of communism worth the real spiritual and psychological harm that is caused by watching a Catholic Bishop turn his back on Las Damas en Blanco?

People who criticize Ortega think the answer is no. Catholics who criticize Ortega expect more, not less, from an avowed servant of God.

Alberto de la Cruz said...

Unfortunately, Cardinal Ortega is not just guilty of remaining silent while his flock is ravaged. Ortega has actively helped the Castro regime achieve its means, including a trip by the Cardinal to D.C. to lobby members of congress to lift sanctions against the dictatorship.

Dr. Carlos Eire, a devout Catholic and professor of religious history at Yale University (also author of Waiting for Snow in Havana & Learning to Die in Miami), has written two excellent pieces regarding the Church in Cuba and its relationship with the Castro dictatorship. I suggest everyone read these two pieces, as it goes much further in explaining the issues with Cardinal Ortega's complicity with the Cuban government.

Carlos Espinosa said...

Again, thank you all for your comments.
But, the most immediate (and important) question for me, was if it was worth it to get in the dog house?

Anneg said...

Carlos, as an old wife (40 years), probably, yeah, it was worth it. She will get over it and she will learn to trust you more. Be nice, bring flowers. And pray for Cuba,and even for that s*****n Fidel's soul, even if he doesn't deserve it. He will not live forever. And only God knows what BXVI's visit will accomplish. I pray it is what needs to accomplish and pray for Mexico,too.

Robert said...

While I have not made it a secret as to how I feel about the church leadership in Cuba (let's just say I'm more in Costales' camp), this point made in the post made me stop and think: it must be noted that the Church’s primary mission is not to free men from oppression and ties that bind them in this world. It is to free men’s soul from the ties that bind them in the eternal one.

We can't ever think we know God's will for us, and if that will is for us to suffer...and we ALL do as today's 1st reading from the Book of Job spelled out...then suffer we will.

However, as Christians, all of us from the pew-warmers to Cardinal Ortega to Pope Benedict XVI, we are commanded to love one another including our enemies. Just as we are to assist each other on our way to eternal salvation, we are obligated by our love to help our oppressed bretheren in any way we can. This means with material, earthly goods as well as spiritual ones. They go hand-in-hand. If we see a starving man in the street, do we give him some food or do we depend solely on his spiritual strength for his well-being?

Feed and clothe the oppressed with love and Christian charity, and he will surely see the Lord.

Carlos Espinosa said...

Thank you, Anneg. You're right about the prayers for the leaders in Cuba, regardless of all the harm they have caused, and about my wife.

Robert, you're absolutely right. Each one of us will be judge according to our actions for the hungry, thirsty, imprisoned and least of our brothers and sisters. Unfortunately, I often find myself looking at the speck in my brother’s eye and don’t notice the log in my own.

God bless you all and thanks for the remarks.