CubaBrief: Catholic church calls for dialogue and prayer to solve crisis in Cuba. Jailed Catholic dissident freed, and sent to Miami.
Daughter and Father: Rufina Velazquez and Ramón Jesús Velázquez Toranzo ( Photo by John Suarez)
In Cuba, under the communist dictatorship, religious freedom has been under assault for six and a half decades. In May 1961 the dictatorship confiscated Catholic private schools and most seminaries in an effort to eliminate religion. In September 1961, the Castro regime at gunpoint collected 131 Catholic priests, brothers and a bishop, placing them on board the Spanish ship Covadonga and deported them from Cuba. Many of the remaining priests were sent to forced labor camps.

Despite all of this, and more religion survived.

The Catholic Church in Cuba today is not a monolith, but an independent institution that like the Church in other countries under Communism has been subjected to infiltration by both informers and high level agents from these communist dictatorship’s respective intelligence agencies.

At the same time the most important opposition initiatives that shook the foundations of the Cuban dictatorship came out of the Christian Liberation Movement, a Catholic lay movement that emerged out of a Parish Church in the neighborhood of the Cerro in Havana in 1988.

The movement was subjected to strong criticisms from other Catholic groupings such as the Espacio Laical publication. This raised questions about Espacio Laical, and these other groupings advancing the dictatorship’s fake change agenda in Cuba.

A more recent example emerged from a Cuban Catholic family.made up of Ramón Jesús Velázquez Toranzo, his wife Bárbara María González Cruz, his son René Ramón Velázquez González and his niece Lorena Velázquez Hechavarría who traveled to the Sanctuary of El Cobre, and on March 8th made public a video, and statement inviting Cubans to come together, and reflect on finding solutions to the problems they face as a people. Below is their message translated to English.

People of Cuba who suffer…

In order to find for ourselves a quick and definitive solution to so many difficult problems that have been suffocating us for more than 60 years, we have decided to: Call a general meeting to thoroughly analyze these problems, find the causes that provoke them and eliminate these causes.

We have meditated much on what would be the best place to hold this people’s gathering, and the answer has come to us in a providential way.

Where better than under the care and protection of almighty God and the virgin Patroness of Cuba? Where so many Cubans have gone to request difficult favors, consolation for our sorrows and, above all, to thank with our knees on the ground the favors granted and the prayers heard.

Yes, Cuban, we are already waiting for you with open arms and a heart full of fraternal love in the National Sanctuary of Our Lady of Charity of Cobre, in the town of the same name in Santiago de Cuba. Come and bring your sufferings, your anguish and your injustices. And rest assured, as all of us who are already here have, that with the intercession of the Blessed Virgin and the favor of our father God we will return to our homes with the greatest and most beautiful of miracles granted.

The miracle of freedom and justice for an entire suffering people.

I am Ramon Jesus, a son of God.

Ramón Velázquez Toranzo was taken by force, and arbitrarily detained on March 10, 2024. He went on hunger strike. His wife, Bárbara María González Cruz, and son, René Ramón Velázquez González, were forced to depart the Sanctuary of the Cobre, their phones were taken by regime officials leaving them incommunicado, and taken home. On the tenth day of his arbitrary detention his daughter living in Florida, Rufina Velazquez reported that her mother and brother were at home in Cuba, but her father remained on hunger strike, and was being told he would have to accept deportation without the right to return to Cuba, or risk continued imprisonment.
On April 20, 2024 he arrived in the United States after being taken in shackles from his arbitrary detention in Santiago de Cuba, on a long journey across the island to Villa Marista (State Security headquarters) in Havana, Cuba. Tonight Rufina gave an update over Facebook on her father’s condition.

Update, Ramon Jesús Velázquez Toranzo in land of the free.

It was a tough road, but fruitful despite the odds.

Little by little my father will recount the events, but for now we can say that he could never be prosecuted or prosecuted any crime (despite having lied to and manipulated my family with a criminal process that never existed).

In short, he went from a preventive measure to immediate release and in no document or verbal agreement was he exiled or exiled forever. That is, their freedom, for all purposes, was unconditional.

A civic act, peaceful and with a message of unity for the Cuban people that with faith, courage and action many, many things can be achieved.

Our goal remains the same as always

#1 Immediate and unconditional release for all political prisoners.

#2 Respect for Human Rights

#3 No more repression against peaceful opposition.

The divine moves in mysterious ways when asked in faith and things are done with good will and without fear.

Thank you all again.

This example of religious repression is not an isolated case. Religious repression in Cuba has worsened since 2021.

In 2023, there were reported occurrences of violations of freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) in roughly 622 cases, down from 657 cases in 2022, up from 272 cases in 2021. A return to harsh tactics was noted by Christian Solidarity Worldwide, including systematic violations of the Nelson Mandela Rules regarding political prisoners, such as the repeated denial of religious visits or the right to receive religious materials; threats and coercion from religious leaders to remove political prisoners’ families from their congregations as part of a social isolation policy; physical and verbal abuse of children at school due to their religious beliefs; repeated harassment, threats, and fines from religious leaders of unregistered religious groups; and targeted intrusive surveillance, repeated interrogations, and other coercive measures against religious leaders of registered groups.

It was even worse in the past, but some of those controls established in the 1960s persist in the present.

The Castro regime declared itself an atheist state in 1962, and openly hostile to religion. Christmas ended as a holiday in Cuba in 1969. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union the dictatorship declared itself “secular” and Christmas returned to Cuba in 1997.

Today, the Office of Religious Affairs (ORA), an arm of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party, still oversees religious affairs in Cuba, and exists to monitor, hinder and restrict religious activities. They also continue to demolish churches with bulldozers and organize mobs to harass Christians in acts of repudiation coordinated with the Ministry of the Interior.

Therefore when one reads the NBC News headline on April 18, 2024 that the “Catholic Church in communist Cuba proposes an open dialogue with the government” mentions three elements: a call to a national dialogue; the “Cuba Emprende” initiative, that allegedly supports entrepreneurship, but in reality is whitewashing the enrichment of regime elites, and seeking for the United States and the Europeans Union to subsidize it. However the same article touches on a call for two prayers for Cuba, falsely focusing only on the economic crisis, while omitting the call for freedom of prisoners, and the call to not be afraid.

Below are translations of the two prayers taken from ACI Prensa on April 16, 2024, and the message from the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba.


To the faithful of the Catholic Church in Cuba:

As part of this year dedicated to the Prayer, the Catholic Bishops of Cuba turn again to Jesus, the Good Shepherd, to thank him and ask him to bless our people. They do so, from the IV Sunday of Easter, April 21, with the attached prayer, which will be prayed at the end of our liturgical celebrations.

It is also encouraged to pray at other times, both personally and in community: in Eucharistic adoration, in prayer groups and, also, to place it in the recliners in front of the Sanctuary, in the chapels of religious communities and in retirement homes. In turn, the sick visitors share it with the brothers who accompany and serve.

May the Virgin of Charity, mother and praying disciple of Christ, hold us in our endeavor

to be, like Her, men and women who let themselves be transformed by God in prayer.

General Secretariat

Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba

Prayer for our people

Oh God, for whom nothing is impossible, today we come before You.
You know that our beloved country is going through very difficult times.
and that the Cuban suffers, cries and lacks the essentials.
We need your help, comfort and strength!

Alone we cannot find paths
of harmony and fraternal coexistence.
We need your Holy Spirit
so that he can assist us in these endeavors
and to seek wise and true solutions
to the serious and urgent problems that afflict us as a people,
so that our living conditions change
and we can be happy in this land of ours.

Listen, oh holy Father,
the prayers of the Holy Virgin of Charity,
Mother of Jesus Christ and of all Cubans,
for these her children.
Also attend to the prayers of this people who beg you
placing all their hope in You.

Supplication prayer
Lord Jesus, today we come before You,
to thank you for always being present among us.
Thank you, because we find you in the love of faithful spouses;
of the fathers and mothers who are with their children
and they educate them in faith, truth and charity;
of the children who lovingly care for the elderly in the house;
of those who from other lands help family and friends;
of the neighbors who accompany each other in sorrows and joys;
of so many who selflessly serve their neighbors.

Help us feel comfort and strength in these difficult times.
Meet the mothers who struggle to feed their children;
to so many who never tire of looking for medicine for their patients;
to the relatives of the prisoners who dream of seeing them return, someday, home healthy;
to workers trying to provide for their loved ones a decent house;
to those who mourn the emigration of husbands, children, grandchildren, friends;
to those who suffer violence and theft;
to those who endure so many material and spiritual deprivations.

Increase our faith, to become aware that for You nothing is impossible.
Send your Holy Spirit so that all Cubans, with the potential that our people have,
Let us learn to live in harmony, in one heart and one soul,
with different ways of thinking, and, together, find solutions that lead us to be born in peace, to work in peace, to eat in peace, to die in peace.
Most Holy Virgin of Charity, Mother of our Lord Jesus, present to your Son our prayers, and tell us as in Cana:
“Do whatever He tells you.” Mother of all Cubans, repeat to us again:
“Do not be afraid, Am I not here who am your Mother?”

Jesus, Good Shepherd, listen to us!

On April 20, 2024 at 3:30pm Father Jose Conrado presided over a Mass at the St. Michael The Archangel Catholic Church in Miami, Florida. The Holy Mass officiated by the Cuban priest José Conrado, who is visiting South Florida, dedicated to praying not only for Cuba, but “also for Venezuela, Nicaragua, Haiti, Ukraine, the Middle East and all places where evil spreads,” the father exhorted. However at the end of the Mass he .prayed the Supplication Prayer for Cuba.
NBC News April 18th, 2024

Catholic Church in communist Cuba proposes an open dialogue with the government
The late Fidel Castro declared Cuba an atheist state until the 1990s, but since then the Catholic Church has taken an active role during tense political periods.

By Orlando Matos and Carmen Sesin

HAVANA — The Catholic Church in communist-run Cuba, which has been instrumental to resolving political tensions in the past, is proposing a national dialogue to help resolve the economic crisis that has gripped the island.

In an interview with NBC News, Father Ariel Suárez, assistant secretary of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba, said that “if the different political actors agree, they can offer a space for dialogue, a meeting place, so that all the different positions … can help find concrete solutions that the people need.”

He said different positions should be included. “I think we need to finally say with more clarity that Cubans can love Cuba with different visions, with different perspectives,” said Suárez. “And it’s important to put above all those differences, the love for Cuba and the desire to improve the life of its people now and in the future.”

Suárez’s interview echoes a statement released by the diocese of Cuba’s third largest city, Holguín, represented by the president of the Conference of Bishops Emilio Aranguren.

“As a church, it corresponds to us to support the creation of spaces for dialogue where different sectors of society can participate to find paths that will help us forge ahead with a calm and hopeful disposition,” read the statement.

The statement was released days after rare protests erupted in March in several Cuban cities, over the dire economic situation on the island, including shortages in food, medicine, power and gasoline. Some called for political change.

Lillian Guerra, a professor of Cuban history at the University of Florida, who interviewed Aranguren for her book “Patriots and Traitors in Revolutionary Cuba,” said he “is uniquely positioned to speak on behalf of local people.”

Guerra, who has spent time with Aranguren, described him as very modest. For close to a decade, his office sponsored a soup kitchen that fed hundreds of impoverished people in Holguín. She said he is very “unusual and unique” because of his trajectory starting as a parish priest in the city of Santa Clara during the 1970s. He is “that kind of local witness to the evolution in Cuban society from the deep Soviet period of the 1970s through the present.”

In 1961 Cuba became an atheist state, seizing church assets, including schools and expelled around 900 priests, according to Guerra. She said they were able to do that because most priests were not Cuban but were born in Spain. For the following three decades, the Cuban state endorsed discrimination against Catholics. Cuba remained an atheist state until 1992, when the government amended the constitution and it became secular.

Pope John Paul II made history in 1998 as the first pope to ever visit the island. His famous declaration, “May Cuba, with all its magnificent potential, open itself up to the world, and may the world open itself up to Cuba,” gave hope to many Cubans. They saw his visit and statement as a sign of new opportunities in the horizon.

In 2010, the Catholic Church brokered a deal for Cuba’s government to release jailed dissidents, something that helped thaw relations with the U.S. during the presidency of Barack Obama. The Catholic Church also played an instrumental role in the historic rapprochement between the two countries.

Guerra said that since the revolution, the church in Cuba has offered “alternative values” that include a belief in freedom of choice, thought and speech.

“Those were completely the opposite of what the schools, newspapers, government and laws said, and say,” the professor noted.

Guerra said the church has planted seeds in nonreligious programs, like Cuba Emprende, that support entrepreneurship and run soup kitchens.

“So we may not be noticing it, but the church is alive and present. And so the fact that you have the church in so many different locations doing things, that are not simply giving Mass, means that the church has already established itself as an alternative space for Cubans to develop and leverage against the government,” Guerra said.

Ahead of Sunday’s Mass, and for the rest of the Easter season that ends May 28, the Conference of Bishops is asking worshipers to pray for the economic crisis and ask for “real and true solutions.”

Suárez said the bishops have made invitations for prayer “in order to find solutions so that we can get out of this distressing situation, so that the country’s officials can have wisdom and audacity when making decisions that favor the lives of the people.”

NBC News has reached out to Cuba’s international press center as well as its embassy in Washington for comments on the church’s proposals.

Carmen Sesín reported from Miami and Orlando Matos from Havana.