03/14/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Cuban Priest to Castro: Obama Changed America, Now "You Must Have the Courage to Change"

Father Jose Conrado


An unusual Sunday, with barely twenty-three degrees centigrade in Santiago de Cuba, I listened to him speak from the altar. Over two hundred people attended his sermon in the wooden church in a poor neighborhood with the mountains as a backdrop. To me, bored by the liturgies, I was surprised to see him celebrate reality and to take Jesus as reference to deal with today. Jose Conrado is a difficult man for those who are accustomed to speaking to a multitude. A Santiaguan, hearty and cheerful, able to give a piece of his mind to someone who dares to upset his congregation. Annoying evidence for those who keep quiet and a hard nut for those accustomed to placing gags.

So it didn't surprise me to see him pick up on the feeling of many people and address an open letter to Raul Castro. I see he's not waiting for an answer to his missive: he already has it. It is that silent prayer that goes out from each of his parishioners, the way they cry out for changes, without raising their voices. In his small Church of Santa Teresita everything has been said, it has the tone of a petition, which cannot, should not, wait any longer.


Note on Father Jose Conrado's Open Letter to Raul Castro Ruz

On February 6th, Fr. Conrado sent a powerful letter to the Cuban President. The entire letter, which is exploding through the Spanish-speaking blogosphere, can be read here in English translation. Following are a few excerpts.

Speaking of the present crisis in Cuba Father Conrado writes:

The seriousness of this time compels me to write to you... Must I describe the situation of our country? The economic crisis affects every household and makes people live agonizingly, asking themselves: what am I going to eat or what am I going to wear? How to get the most elemental things for my family? The difficulties of everyday life become so overwhelming that they keep us mired in sadness and hopelessness. Insecurity and widespread feelings of helplessness lead to amorality, hypocrisy and phoniness. Everything is worth it because nothing has value, except survival at all cost, which we later discover is "at any cost." Hence the dream of Cubans, especially the young, to abandon the country.

He appeals to Castro with a quote from Jose Marti, Cuba's national hero to whom he grants the status of apostle, and cites the election of Barack Obama as a sign of change:

...remember those words that our national apostle Jose Marti wrote to Generalissimo Gomez in a somewhat similar situation: "One cannot establish a people, general, as one commands an encampment."

The world is changing. The recent election of a black citizen to hold the presidency of a country formerly known as racist and a violator of the civil rights of blacks, says that something is changing in this world... The Cuban government that you lead today must have the courage to face these changes with new approaches and new attitudes.

He details the human rights abuses of the regime and says he cannot bear to remain silent:

We have to have enormous courage to recognize that in our homeland there is a constant and not justifiable violation of human rights, which is reflected in the existence of dozens of prisoners of conscience and the battered exercise of the most basic freedoms: speech, information, press and opinion, and serious restrictions on freedom of religion and politics. Failure to recognize these realities does no favors for our national life and makes us lose self-respect, in our eyes and in the eyes of others, friends or foes.

The cause of peace, both domestic and foreign, and the prosperity of the nation itself, are grounded in the unconditional respect for these rights that express the supreme dignity of the human being as a child of God. And to keep quiet about this, weighs so heavily on my conscience that I am not able to bear it.

He says, frankly, that he's disgusted that Castro rejected much needed hurricane relief from the U.S. and Europe, and calls on him to open Cuba to the world:

I confess, general, the disgust and sadness it has caused me to know that our government has rejected, apparently for ideological reasons or political differences, the help that the U.S. and several European nations wanted to send for the victims of the hurricanes that hit our land. When one falls into misfortune, (and that can happen to anyone, including the powerful), it's time to accept the help that is offered, because this aid reveals a depth of goodwill in the face of pain, of human solidarity, even in those we considered our enemies. Giving the opponent the opportunity to be good and to do what is just can bring out the best in ourselves and in others, making us change old attitudes and heal damaging resentments. Nothing contributes more to peace and reconciliation among peoples than this giving and receiving. The phrase of St. Francis de Sales is valid in interpersonal relationships as well as between countries, "More flies are caught with a drop of honey than a barrel of vinegar." As stated by His Holiness John Paul II during his visit to our country, "Let Cuba open to the world and let the world open to Cuba."

He appeals to Castro's heart, reminding him of his tears at wife's funeral:

At your wife's funeral, seeing you surrounded by your children and grandchildren, moved to tears, I noticed that you are a sensitive man. And I think there is more wisdom in the heart of a good man than in all the books and libraries in this world, as the song goes: "that which sense can accomplish, knowledge has not been able to do, nor the highest conduct, nor the broadest thought...." Therefore I appeal to your sense of responsibility, to your kindness, to tell you not to be afraid, be bold in taking a new and different path in the world that is showing so many signs of change for the better.

Father Conrado offers to stand at Castro's side on a 'journey of hope':

If you decide to embark on this journey of hope, count on me, general. I will be in the first row, to give to Cuba, once again, the only thing I have: my heart; and to you, my honest hand and my unselfish collaboration. So we can make Marti's dream a reality, to have a fatherland, "with all and for the good of all."

And finally, he is unequivocal that one must follow one's conscience, above all human authority, church or state:

I want to end with the words said by our current Pope, Benedict XVI in 1968: "Even above the Pope as an expression of binding ecclesiastic authority, is one's own conscience which must be obeyed first, if it were necessary, even against what ecclesiastical authority says." If that applies to ecclesiastical authority whose origin I consider divine, it applies to all other human authority, however powerful it may be.

Yoani's blog, Generation Y, can be read here in English Translation.