Cuban cardinal visits St. Augustine
Prelate's meeting with exiles is seen as reconciliatory
By PABLO ALFONSO
Herald Staff Writer
ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- Calling for brotherhood, love and unity among
Cubans, the Archbishop of Havana, Cardinal Jaime
Ortega, arrived here Thursday, to meet with priests and lay people from the Cuban exile community.
His first stop was Tolomato Cemetery, where he prayed at the tomb of
the Rev. Felix Varela, a 19th Century Cuban priest
described by historians as the founder of the Cuban nationality.
``We can find our roots in places like this,'' Ortega said at the cemetery chapel. ``We find them in Cuba, we find them here.''
He said Varela -- a pragmatic intellectual who once served as Cuba's
vicar general in Spain -- lived and died in exile because
of his nationalistic ideas, but was always faithful to his religion.
The Cuban nation ``is a lot more than a territory and a lot more than
a place,'' Ortega said, and Varela ``belongs to Cubans
wherever they are. [He] is a great symbol of union, love and hope for all of us.''
Ortega later attended the annual meeting of the Brotherhood of Cuban
Priests in Diaspora, along with the bishop of
Bayamo-Manzanillo, Monsignor Dionisio Garcia.
Ortega's presence here is seen as a gesture of reconciliation between
the Havana archdiocese and Cuban Catholics overseas.
The cardinal has been criticized by many Cubans in the United States for what they consider his indulgence toward the
government of President Fidel Castro.
Discussing Pope John Paul II's visit to Cuba, set for January, Ortega
said church authorities are working on ways to enable
Cuban exiles to travel to the island. He said he was hopeful ``their labors will be fruitful.''
``I believe the Cuban people are those who are there [on the island]
and those who are here as well,'' Ortega said. ``Catholics
here love the Holy Father as much as Catholics there.''
Ortega will meet today with about 120 delegates to the second international
meeting of CRECED (Communities of Cuban
Ecclesiastic Reflection in Diaspora), which will be held here until Sunday.
On the agenda are the spiritual preparation of Cuban Americans for the
pope's visit to Cuba and their support for the
beatification of Varela. A proposal has been made to canonize the priest; beatification is the first step in that process.
Late today, the delegates will attend an open air Mass on the grounds
of the ancient Catholic mission. The ceremony will be
followed by ``Cuban Night,'' an evening of art and music.