Cuban Protesters Take to the Streets for Their Freedom, Under Patronage of Our Lady of Charity

Publicado originalmente en: National Catholic Register

A Pivotal Opportunity

Carlos Paya is no stranger to violence at the hands of the communist regime. As a young man, he was forced to flee Cuba in 1986, taking up residence in Spain. The next year, his brother, Oswaldo,  began the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL), a group inspired by the social doctrine of the Church and committed to nonviolent civil disobedience. Their efforts to reform the Cuban constitution by petition, named the Verala Project after a Catholic priest who had participated in the Cuban struggle for independence, were blocked by the government and resulted in the Black Spring of 2003, which saw 75 dissidents jailed by the regime. Nine years later, Paya’s brother died in a car accident under suspicious circumstances, with a passenger in the car claiming it was run off the road by Cuban government officials. A petition urging the United Nations to investigate Oswaldo’s death has nearly 16,000 signatures.

Today, Paya is MCL’s representative in Spain. He told the Registerhis organization supports “people protesting on the street peacefully.” Among the changes called for by MCL include freedom of travel by Cubans both on and off the island, the guarantee of freedom of expression an assembly, recognition of economic rights, and free and fair elections.

Paya recognizes this current moment in Cuba as a pivotal opportunity to push for human freedom constituent with the Gospel and Christian teaching. But he says the Catholic Church in Cuba needs to be bold if the opportunity is to come to fruition. 

He offered mild criticism of a July 13 statement released by the Catholic bishops of Cuba, saying it didn’t go far enough in condemning the government’s calls and steps toward violence, didn’t sufficiently emphasize demonstrators calls for liberty and political change, and drew a false equivalency between the two sides. 

“The Church has to be a lighthouse where people could look,” said Paya, pointing to the role the Catholic Church played in bringing communism to an end in Poland in the 1980s. He acknowledges that similar mass demonstrations in Venezuela in 2019 failed to lead to lasting change, and worries that something similar could happen in Cuba if the Church isn’t willing to “take a step forward.” 

“It would be such a pity to lose this opportunity and to lose the lives of those protesting and being detained [if no change results],” he said.

Our Lady of Charity

Paya does see a guiding light in the form of La Virgen de la Caridad — both in terms of her intercession, but also her inspiration.

Typically associated with the phrase, “The Virgin of Charity unites us,” devotion to the image of the Blessed Mother is widespread in Cuba, cutting across economic, racial, political, and even religious lines. In fact, Miami Auxiliary Bishop Felipe de Jesús Estévez once remarked that “La Virgen de la Caridad is the most profound symbol of the Cuban nation. The British have their queen, the Cubans have la Caridad.”

Paya says the image of the Blessed Mother is a reminder that all Cubans are children of the same God and share a spiritual mother, an essential point of commonality as Cuba attempts to pursue a path of national reconciliation.

Paya also says the Virgin can also point Cubans toward a truer sense of freedom.

“I am a son of God, and I am free because God made us free,” he said. “No one else can take our freedom.”

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