Through one of its media outlets, the Havana archdiocese on Thursday called on the Cuban government “to definitively remove the restrictions that weigh down upon all religious institutions, and allow them to freely carry out their work.” “Religious freedom is something more than freedom of worship,” reads the Oct. 22 editorial in Palabra Nueva, the Archdiocese of Havana's magazine. The editorial discusses the role of the Church in Cuba, including its mediation in the release of polticial prisoners who were jailed in 2003 and Pope Francis' involvement in the diplomatic thaw with the United States. Palabra Nueva addressed the significance of the last three Popes having visited Cuba, beginning with St. John Paul II in 1998. “Many people paid attention to his message and invitation of openness to the world, of having no fear of opening the mind and heart to Jesus Christ, the source of truth and hope, but others did not. Part of the world did listen to the Pope's invitation and began to approach (the government), but the Cuban leadership did not reciprocate the gesture. It is common to conclude that visit was just a parenthesis in the life of the country, even though in reality it was much more than that,” the editorial stated. The magazine noted that Benedict XVI came “to demonstrate his support for a process of a new and long hoped for dialogue between the Church and the Cuban Government, began in 2010. He also made it clear the desire of the Church to be part of the process of reforms that had been initiated.” Pope Francis' recent visit “leaves a spiritual wake of widespread acceptance,” and the things the Pope called for “have gotten through to a lot of Cubans … Only the spiritually short sighted did not appreciate his closeness, simplicity and his desire to communicate with all Cubans.” “In the same way, his words were well received by the young people when he proposed to them to not stop dreaming if they really want a different world, and to not 'shrink back' and to 'create societal friendship.'” Palabra Nueva said that after 17 years, the seed sown by St. John Paul II is beginning to be seen. “In reality the still weak flame of hope has been rekindled among us, which can be strengthened by an internal opening up and rapprochement among Cubans. It would be a mistake to try to ignore the revealing and painfully sincere response of those young people to the pope's call to dream, 'if they let us!'' It stated that “a coherent step would be to recognize, once and for all, the place that belongs to the Church in society,” not just as an institution, “but in its entire composition, from the laity to the bishops, the clergy and all those in consecrated life, since we all have a place and a mission in society. The desire for engagement is high but it is not accompanied by laws and social structures.” The editorial recalled that on July 7, 2013 President Raul Castro said that it was time for religious institutions to help in face of the “grave deterioration or loss of urban and civic values in the country.” “In reality,” the editorial noted, “there is little the churches and other religious manifestations that exist today in Cuba can do in that regard, if their ability for action is not facilitated, or if conditions are not created that would allow them and guarantee them their ability to act in a permanent and transparent manner, no matter how great their desire to show their co-responsibility is or how bad the loss of values by the citizens.” Because religious freedom regards more than freedom of worship, “it's not right to try to have the Church only occupy itself with the things of God in the church building and keep it isolated form the social sphere, and accept its social participation only when it suits the politicians. The perspective should not be what suits the Church or the politicians but rather what is best, most beneficial and useful for society and the citizens.” Therefore, “recognizing the belief and religious practice of the majority of Cubans, and the urgency of the country to reclaim its values...and when everyone's collaboration is needed in the process of the changes the country is going through in order to avoid 'falling into the abyss,' a necessary step would be to definitively lift the restrictions weighing down on religious institutions and allow them to freely carry out their work.” “Now is the time. If religion is not the opiate of the people, then in whose interest is it to keep lit an imaginary pipe or disseminate an artificial drug?” the editorial concluded.
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