Thursday, November 04, 2010

Castro's Gift to Church: In Cuba, a New Seminary

On this feast of St Charles Borromeo -- the patron of seminarians -- big news from the global formation beat: hailed as Cuba's first new religious building since the 1959 Revolution, yesterday saw the opening of a new National Seminary outside Havana, with one of the more unlikely casts of characters you'll ever find on this beat on hand.

Two attendees at the dedication provide one of many cases in point: President Raul Castro sat in the front row (foreground left below)... and the Supreme Knight of Columbus Carl Anderson -- once an aide in the Reagan White House -- not far behind.

Comprising the Knights' chief and several clerics from South Florida and Washington, the US delegation to the rites was led by Archbishop Tom Wenski of Miami (above center) -- long the Stateside bench's de facto lead spokesman on Cuban affairs, all the more since returning home earlier this year to lead the church in the exile community's preeminent outpost. The group will tour the island through the weekend.

Dedicated to Saints Ambrose and Charles -- the patrons of Milan -- the original Havana seminary was seized by the Communist authorities in 1966, and given insufficient quarters elsewhere. Able to house some 100 students, the new facility has its work cut out for it; often under duress, some three-quarters of Cuba's clergy left the island in the wake of Fidel Castro's rise to power, according to wire reports.

The development comes as church relations with the regime are "on a high" -- in the wake of a breakthrough 2008 visit by the Cardinal-Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone, the local hierarchy led by Havana's Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino has made several inroads, most prominently securing the freedom of over 50 longtime political prisoners earlier this year (most of whom have reportedly been sent to Spain immediately upon their release).

At the same time, the 74 year-old cardinal -- whose delicate tightrope-walk with the state has earned him a degree of distrust among the community's more hard-line elements -- has called Castro's government to conscience on the deteriorating political and economic situation, calling in a widely-noted April intervention for "quick" changes.

In his remarks at yesterday's dedication, Ortega underscored that the seminary project "has been able to count on state support through its conclusion," thanking both current and former Presidents Castro for making good on their pledge to back the effort.

The opening comes amid a decade-long "novena" of preparation called by the Cuban bishops leading up to 2013's 400th anniversary of the appearance of the Caridad de Cobre (Our Lady of Charity), the island's patroness.

PHOTOS: Reuters(1,3); AP(2)