CUBA: CATHOLIC CHURCH BANS RELATIVES OF POLITICAL PRISONERS FROM MASS
by FRANCES MARTEL29 Jun 20153
A Catholic church in the central Cuban city of Cienfuegos has banned
female relatives of political prisoners from attending mass unless they
no longer wear white, a color associated with political imprisonment in
the nation. The slight to families of the abused follows the bewildering
remark from Archbishop of Havana Jaime Ortega that Cuba no longer has
prisoners of conscience.
Eight members of the Ladies in White activist group have attended Sunday
Catholic Mass wearing white for years, sitting in the pews in silence
unless participating in the Mass. No reports have surfaced of the women
themselves–mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters of prisoners of
conscience–disturbing the Mass. Nonetheless, a priest in Cienfuegos
expelled them from his service, ordering them never to wear white again
in his church if they wish to attend services.
The priest, identified as "Father Tarciso," told Diario de Cuba that the
women were "disrespectful," stating, "I had told them that the way
things are could not continue to be. … I cannot allow our community to
be further fractured," he argued. He accused them of taking photographs
inside the church, which the ladies deny. Miladis Espino Díaz, a
representative of the Ladies in White, noted that they were expelled
from the church and, upon walking out, could hear the priest apologize
to those in attendance for not having done it sooner.
"We do not only go to church because we are Ladies in White," Espino
Díaz told the newspaper, "but because we believe in God. We sing, we
pray, we participate, we do nothing wrong."
Following their removal from the church, the women testified to being
the victim of a number of offensive acts, including a man "exposing
himself and urinating in front of them," "obscene gestures using
fingers," and "being called prostitutes."
Offenses to the Ladies in White are common as they attempt to attend
Mass; in a particularly gruesome instance last year, one woman was
tarred for wearing white to the service.
Two male supporters of the group, Emilio García Moreira and Alexander
Veliz García, began a hunger strike Thursday to support the return of
the women to Mass.
Catholic religion is heavily regulated in communist Cuba, where it is
technically a counterrevolutionary activity but has managed to persist,
particularly given overtures by Pope Francis towards the Castro
dictatorship. "If he keeps talking like this, I'll return to the
Church," Raúl Castro said of the Pope this year following his support of
major U.S. concessions to the Castro regime. Pope Francis was a direct
mediator between President Obama and Raúl Castro before the American
head of state chose to strip Cuba of its State Sponsor of Terrorism
status–despite no evidence in a change of support to either the
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or Hezbollah–in exchange for
nothing from Cuba.
Meanwhile, Catholic Mass remains among the most popular locations for
mass political arrests. According to the watchdog Cuban Commission for
Human Rights and National Reconciliation, which keeps a monthly tally of
politically motivated arrests in Cuba, authorities made 641 political
arrests in May, the latest month for which statistics are available. Out
of the 641 arrests, 219 occurred either at a Mass or outside a church,
where Ladies in White were arrested before they could attend services.
Thirty instances of Mass-related arrests took place in May.
Despite overt targeting on the part of Cuban authorities, Catholic
officials have insisted on defending the Cuban government against their
congregants. In an interview on Spanish radio this month, Archbishop of
Havana Jaime Ortega made the perplexing claim that Cuba no longer houses
political prisoners. "When Pope Benedict came [to Cuba], there was a
pardon of the common prisoners, because there are no political prisoners
left in Cuba anymore," he alleged.
Multiple human rights groups have confirmed that there are at least 71
political prisoners in Cuba, with others arrested on vague charges of
disturbing public order and "counterrevolutionary activities" that may
also be politically motivated. Cuban activists have reacted with horror
to Ortega's remarks, particularly in light of a scheduled visit to the
island by Pope Francis himself in September. The visit, said 17-year
political prisoner Jorge Luis García Pérez, will be "a very dangerous
visit, because it will serve to legitimize the regime like never
before." Berta Soler, head of the Ladies in White group, responded with
similar outrage, given that Ortega's remarks render the families of the
women in her group nonexistent. "We find it deplorable that Cardinal
[Ortega] uses the same rhetoric as the Cuban government. The Catholic
Church should not be biased; it should protect and shelter every
suffering, defenseless person," she said in a statement.
Source: Cuba: Catholic Church Bans Relatives of Political Prisoners from
Mass - Breitbart -