Address of Gaudium et Spes Honoree
Address of His Eminence Jaime Lucas Cardinal Ortega y Alamino
Archbishop of Havana
Eighth Gaudium et Spes Award Honoree
128th Supreme Convention
August 3, 2010
Eminences, Excellencies, Supreme Knight Mr. Carl Anderson, distinguished members of the Knights of Columbus and other friends.
It is a great honor for me, and a duty that I am very pleased to undertake, to accept the invitation extended to me by the Supreme Knight, Mr. Carl Anderson, to participate in this annual Supreme Convention.
First and foremost, it is an honor because it allows me to thank you publicly for this undeserved award that the Knights of Columbus have bestowed on me, which will be presented in this important occasion. When I learned that I was going to be honored with the Gaudium et Spes award, given by the Knights of Columbus to some significant figures of the Catholic Church in the world, and I heard the cherishable names of some of the preceding recipients; the blessed Teresa of Calcutta, the Cardinal Tarsicio Bertone, Secretary of State of His Holiness the Pope Benedict XVI, and my unforgettable friend Cardinal John O’Connor, I felt the urge to communicate to the Supreme Knight, Mr. Carl Anderson, my surprise for having considered this apostles’ successor, who was taken to the cardinal dignity by John Paul II in 1994, and who acts as Archbishop of Havana since 1981; and also to convey my deep gratitude for such a grand and unmerited honor. I would like to take this great opportunity to do it once again.
I previously said it was also a duty to publicly say especial words of gratitude for the ecclesiastic services rendered by the Knights of Columbus in favor of our Church in Cuba. You, dear Knights of Columbus, have actualized the motto of this year’s convention: “I Am My Brother’s Keeper”. Regardless of the distance, and the differences in our social or political systems, you have been brothers to the Cuban Catholics and have shown us your solidarity. We would just have to mention your instrumental support in the construction of the new San Carlos y San Ambrosio National Seminary in Havana City, Cuba.
This new facility, which we hope to open in November during the St. Charles Borromeo Celebrations, has the capacity to house one hundred seminarians, and it will replace the former building located in the Colonial Town, which is not functional due to its location and conditions. The old building will become a culture center of great radiance for the theological training of laymen, in the areas of humanities, and art and culture in general.
In this way, by having contributed so generously to the construction of the New Seminary, you have also facilitated the development of two works of great social and ecclesiastic impact.
As Pope Benedict XVI has said, priests are “a gift from Christ’s heart, a gift for the Church and for the world”. Therefore, their training and vocational work are a Bishop’s main task. Hence, my concern for having a proper seminary that –thanks to the support of the Knights of Columbus– is about to be concluded. But the laity has played a predominant role in Cuba, especially in the last 40 years, not only by the work they have carried out in some ministries due to the shortage of priests, but also by the social role they have played within families, at work places, schools and society in general; sometimes they have had to face hardships given the constrains and limitations suffered by believers in past decades. The laity role in Cuba is very well known by the Knights of Columbus, who were present in my country since the beginning of the Republic in 1902 carrying out a fruitful work that has left its imprint on us. I must say that the laymen of Havana are already organizing groups of men who wish to join the Knights of Columbus in the various parishes. I now convey to you an entreaty on their behalf and a very especial invitation from the Archbishop.
I can assure you that nowadays the situation is more favorable for the action of charity services characteristic of the Knights of Columbus in the Cuban Church.
Plenty of social works for the elderly people, for disabled children, parochial workshops to help those with learning difficulties, for youngsters and adults who wish to learn humanities or the Church Social Doctrine, etc., are some of the possibilities for a social presence of the Church in Cuba, which is exceeded by these efforts also carried out by numerous Mission Houses that gather communities of 60, 70 or even 100 people in family homes. Many times, these communities are looked after by catechist laymen who prepare the faithful to evolve from evangelized communities to Eucharistic communities. In my Archdiocese several of these communities have turned into parishes. Now we must build parish churches. We have already achieved some permits to build them, but our Church is poor and needs help.
The Church has always been duly interested –in a discreet, direct and non-violent way– in everything related to justice and the common good. It has succeeded in having its publications read and appreciated not only by practicing Catholics but also by others, since they reflect the lacks and expectations of many Cubans.
Lately, the Cuban government, responding to our request, has asked us to mediate between the political prisoners’ relatives and the government authorities in order to know their proposals. In this way a process began, which has led to the recent announcement that fifty-two convicts, considered prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International, will be released in a period of three to four months. More than twenty of these prisoners have already traveled to Spain.
These discussions conducted by the Church have been unprecedented, and they bring about a new situation of social appreciation for our Catholics. We hope that this process of dialogue, in which we are immerged now, ends successfully. We ask you to pray for this cause and for our Church in Cuba.
Recently, the spokesman of the Holy See, Fr. Lombardi, acknowledging our church’s mediation, has said:
"The crucial role in the process of dialogue assumed by Cardinal Ortega Alamino and by Archbishop Dionisio Garcia, president of the bishops' conference, was made possible by the evident fact that the Catholic Church is deeply rooted among the people and is a reliable interpreter of its spirit and expectations."
The Church, he observed, "is not an extrinsic reality, she does not flee in difficult times. She bears sufferings and hopes with dignity and with patience, without servility but also without trying to increase tensions and excite souls. On the other hand, she does so with the continuous effort to open roads to understanding and to dialogue."
I sincerely believe this is also what the Knights of Columbus acknowledge by bestowing this undeserved award upon me. I am deeply honored. On behalf of my Church in Cuba I reiterate my deepest gratitude to the Supreme Knight and to all the Knights of Columbus. I pray the Lord that He continues to bless your ecclesiastic actions, and that Father Michael J. McGivney – who was inspired by God to found this extraordinary ecclesiastic work – may soon be canonized.
I bless you and pray for you all,
Thank you very much.