Hope from Havana

Page three of this issue has an article which is very surprising. It describes how the cardinal archbishop of Havana, Cuba went to Canada to give an address to that nation’s bishops that encouraged them in their work of evangelization. The Canadian bishops face a challenging situation, especially in the province of Quebec, which once was the bedrock of Catholicism in Anglo-America (mainly because it was not colonized by England but by France) but has seen a sharp decline in Mass attendance, but also throughout the country.

Michael Valpy and Joe Friesen wrote in the Toronto Globe and Mail Dec. 10, 2010, “Quebec, with its Roman Catholic tradition, leads in religious affiliation, but church attendance is sparse and its residents are least likely to say that faith is very important to their lives. Across the board, the young are giving up on God with increasing haste.” Although the western provinces of Canada (like the U.S. Northwest) have a rather high level of irreligiosity (with people identifying with no religion), the increase of that trend has been slower in those provinces than in Quebec and the Maritime provinces. 

Canadian Catholic News reported that the Vatican ambassador (the apostolic nuncio) “Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi, who arrived in Canada seven months ago, acknowledged [that] the Church in Canada faces challenges after decades of secularization. He highlighted the precipitous drop in the numbers of those in consecrated life, noting in the 1960s Canada boasted 60,000 religious, while ‘today, there are little more than 15,000 and their average age is 80 years,’ he said. He added other sources of ‘anxiety and suffering’ for the bishops, including ‘the shortage of priestly vocations, the aging of the clergy, the weakening of the faith.’ Yet, despite the ‘alarming portrait’ from a statistical perspective, the nuncio urged the bishops to see the Church as the Holy Spirit sees her. ‘Do we see a troublesome picture before us? Yes! Days, months and years without apparent results? This too! Does the Church seem somehow declining? That also! But all of this is accompanied by the certainty — if we trust in the Word of Christ and we cast out the nets — that a miraculous catch lies ahead, the birth or rebirth of a Church more evangelical.’”

Cardinal Jaime Ortega from Havana shared with the Canadian bishops how the Church in Cuba has strived to become more evangelical, more based in the Gospel message to “go out to all the world and tell the Good News” (Mk 16:15). Catholics in Cuba have faced an atheistic Communist dictatorship since 1959, so one would not think that this would be the land which could supply Catholics in Canada (or anywhere) with some hope. Cardinal Ortega knew that although persecution often helps the Church grow, the members of the Church cannot passively sit by and expect God to do all of the work. God is doing the lion’s share of the work, but God wants our collaboration. The article on page three of today’s Anchor gives some examples of how Cuban Catholics have made the Church present to people in a way which planted seeds in their hearts, seeds which little by little brought them back (or for the first time) to the Church.

On September 6 Pope Francis told the bishops from Cameroon, “Your work of evangelization will be all the more effective if the Gospel is truly lived out by those who have received it and profess it. This is the way to attract to Christ all those who do not yet know Him, by showing them the power of His loving capacity to transform and illuminate the lives of men and women.” The Catholics in Cuba who were spreading the Gospel understood that — and that’s why people were responding to them. People, once they got to know these Catholics, realized that they really were striving to “walk the walk” of Jesus, that their words were not shallow or hypocritical, but really were being put into action. Their Cuban sisters and brothers could see that the Gospel had changed them for the better and this made these other people realize that maybe they, too, could have the emptiness in their lives be filled by Christ in the Church.

World Mission Sunday is coming soon (October 19). Pope Francis, in his message for that day, reminded all Catholics of our need to be joyful spreaders of the Gospel. “Let us not be robbed of the joy of evangelization! I invite you to immerse yourself in the joy of the Gospel and nurture a love that can light up your vocation and your mission. I urge each of you to recall, as if you were making an interior pilgrimage, that ‘first love’ with which the Lord Jesus Christ warmed your heart, not for the sake of nostalgia but in order to persevere in joy. The Lord’s disciples persevere in joy when they sense His presence, do His will and share with others their faith, hope and evangelical charity.” Linda Andrade Rodrigues in her article beginning on the facing page discusses several of the saints whom we celebrate in the autumn. Maybe we can make an “interior pilgrimage” with them in our prayer during these days, asking them to help us savor again (or for the first time) the joy of a lived encounter with Jesus, so that we can then share it with others.

We end with Pope Francis’ good advice: “Let us pray through the intercession of Mary, the model of humble and joyful evangelization, that the Church may become a welcoming home, a mother for all peoples and the source of rebirth for our world.” It worked in Havana. May it work in Massachusetts.

© 2019 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing    †    Fall River, Massachusetts