Thursday, September 17, 2015

Pope Francis in Cuba: Fasts For Freedom

"I ask the children of the Church in Cuba to please pray for me, because I need it." - Pope Francis, Message to the president of the Cuban Episcopal Conference, September 8, 2014

#FastForFreedom: #PopeInCuba

Cubans and people of good will inside and outside of Cuba are praying for Pope Francis and for the long national nightmare that has gripped the island for 56 years to finally come to an end.

Cuban democrats are deeply concerned with the Pope's upcoming visit to Cuba where it is rumored that His Holiness will not have time to meet with them but will make time to meet with Fidel Castro. This has led to members of the Cuban resistance to initiate a hunger strike titled “Holy Father, “We too are Cuba” on September 16th when Jorge Luis Garcia Perez Antúnez announced it from Placetas:
"We human rights defenders, former political prisoners, in short opponents of the totalitarian dictatorship of the Castro brothers announce to the world that we are starting a hunger strike in order to draw attention to the recent escalation of arrests, harassment, bullying and persecution that the hordes of the Havana regime unleash against members of the internal resistance to avoid their involvement in the activities that will be officiated by the Holy Father Francis during his upcoming visit to Cuba."  
In Miami, on the same day the Democracy Movement leader Ramon Saul Sanchez announced that he was starting a fast:
 “I will begin a fast of conscience without any food, just water, to appeal directly to the pope on two issues recognizing Cuba’s civil society and stopping human rights abuses against the Ladies in White, an opposition group on the island."
The Free Cuba Foundation (FCF), a student movement, in a blog entry that begins citing Psalm 146:3
Do not trust in princes, In mortal man, in whom there is no salvation." is calling on people of good will to engage in a fast for freedom during the Pope Francis's visit to Cuba:
The Free Cuba Foundation calling on people of good will to join us in fasting and prayer during the visit of Pope Francis to Cuba beginning with his arrival on September 19, 2015 at 4:00pm and ending on September 22, 2015 at 12:30pm.
FCF is calling on fasters to also engage in at least four prayers during the fast for freedom. The first is a prayer for fasting, the second is the prayer of St. Francis, the third is a prayer for prisoners of conscience, and the fourth a prayer for victims of violence. The student organization explained the reasoning behind this course of action:
This fast is being done to pray for the nonviolent democratic resistance in Cuba, that their demand for a general amnesty for all political prisoners be granted, that the systematic violation of human rights be ended, that a democratic transition and an authentic national reconciliation take place.
The past few years have marked a worsening human rights situation on the island with increasing repression and violence against activists. Prominent opposition leaders such as Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas have been assassinated by state security. Presently there are at least 71 political prisoners in Cuba.

The hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Cuba has generated some controversies over the years and the Pope's visit may be another occasion in which lay people might be disappointed but this should not disillusion believers. It is important to remember the words of defender of the faith, Hilaire Belloc, who remarked to William Temple:
"The Catholic Church is an institution I am bound to hold divine - but for unbelievers a proof of its divinity might be found in the fact that no merely human institution conducted with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight."
It is also important to recall that Pope Francis did meet with Cuban opposition leaders and activists in Rome. During Pope Francis's visit to Cuba I will join the fast for freedom and use the above hashtags.

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