Published by The Associated Press, January 14, 2004
Leader of Orthodox Christians Goes to Cuba
by ANDREA RODRIGUEZ
HAVANA (AP) - The
spiritual leader of the world's 300 million Orthodox Christians will travel to
Cuba next week at the invitation of President Fidel Castro to consecrate a
cathedral, a regional church leader said Wednesday.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew will arrive on Jan. 21 and consecrate the cathedral on Jan. 25, said Metropolitan Athenagoras of Panama and Central America, which includes Mexico, the Caribbean, Colombia and Venezuela.
"Our church is very old, the oldest in all of Christianity, and we bring a message of peace," Athenagoras told The Associated Press. "For us, it is an honor to be in Cuba."
Cuba was explicitly atheist for about 25 years after Castro's revolution, but the collapse of the Soviet Bloc led the government to abandon official atheism and to openly, if warily, accept religious faith.
In recent years, Bartholomew has visited Libya, Iran, Bahrain and Qatar - the first ever by an Ecumenical Patriarch to those Muslim countries - to promote religious tolerance.
The St. Nicholas Cathedral was constructed with Cuban government funds on one side of the Byzantine-style Basilica of San Francisco, a former Roman Catholic sanctuary now used mostly for concerts.
"This cathedral is an offering, as the president says in his letter to the patriarch," Athenagoras said. There are some 1,200 practicing Orthodox Christians in Cuba and the church hopes to bring another 500 back into the fold, especially immigrants from countries of the former Soviet Union and eastern Europe.
Published by Orthodox Christian News, January
a Christian, but also as a Cuban, I write these lines.
deeply saddening and disturbing I find the honor bestowed on Fidel Castro by
awarding him the Order of Saint Andrew.
does the honor reconcile itself to the Paredon?
Surely the blood shed by those at the infamous wall to face the fusillade would
does this honor square with the 42 people, including children who drowned at sea
due to the efforts of the Cuban Coast Guard in 1994?
does this honor square with lack of political expression, free will and
association that is Castroís Cuba?
building or renovating an beautiful place of worship works as an indulgence
against wiping clean a track record of transgressions against humanity, but
that would be a blasphemous notion in our modern times.
the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew simply does not know enough of Cuban
history and the circumstances surrounding the pursuant diaspora
of Cubans of various ethnicities that lives throughout the world and anxiously
awaits and prays to God for a peaceful resolution to our homelandís
live and work in the Netherlands and wear my homeland inside - like I carry the
many other cultures that are vested within me - and so it is that I recoil at
I am offended, shocked and dismayed. Perhaps a simple
case of ignorance is behind this gesture of the patriarch.
Maria Herrera de Hofmeyer
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