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from issue no. 12 - 2008

CUBA. The first beatification ceremony in the Pearl of the Caribbean

A gift for all the people of the island

So the Cuban media described the beatification of José Olallo Valdés, brother of the Hospital Order of Saint John of God. The report by Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, sent by the Pope as his representative at the celebration

Interview with Cardinal José Saraiva Martins by Gianni Cardinale

The procession of the relics of Father 
José Olallo Valdés during the beatification ceremony, attended by Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, in Camagüey, Cuba, on 29 November 2008 [© Associated press/LaPresse]

The procession of the relics of Father José Olallo Valdés during the beatification ceremony, attended by Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, in Camagüey, Cuba, on 29 November 2008 [© Associated press/LaPresse]

“I must say that the idea of Benedict XVI of decentralizing, so to speak, beatification ceremonies has proved truly prophetic, and of great ecclesial and ecclesiological value. It is a good thing, in fact, that the whole community, and not just those who could travel to Rome, come together and celebrate the raising to the altars of one of their members. It is a special opportunity for catechesis”. Portuguese Cardinal José Saraiva Martins is the Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, head of the department from 1998 to July 2008. He was sent by the Pope as his representative to the beatification of 188 Japanese martyrs held in Nagasaki on 24 November (see preceding pages) and to that of José Olallo Valdés, brother of the Hospital Order of Saint John of God, held in Cuba on 29 November. A little tour of the world in less than a week, for a cardinal who seems not to suffer from the disturbance of the circadian rhythm, commonly known as jetlag. The ceremony in Cuba had a very particular historical flavour of its own taste, seasoned by the presence – with an unheard-of hand-kiss for the papal representative – of President Raúl Castro.

Your Eminence, what kind of person was Brother Olallo Valdés?
JOSÉ SARAIVA MARTINS: He was a splendid figure who, in 19th century Cuba, lived the life of charity boldly and creatively, without fear. In more than half a century of tireless work the new Blessed devoted his life and his physical and moral energies to helping and caring for the poor – “his beloved brothers” he called them – slaves and the wounded in the interminable and bloody war of independence from the Spanish Crown. That is why Olallo Valdés was described by his contemporaries as a “champion of Christian charity” and “the father of the poor”. Not least for that the Church has inscribed him among the Blessed.
This was the first beatification ceremony on Cuban soil...
SARAIVA MARTINS: Brother Olallo is the second Cuban Blessed and indeed the first to be raised to the honor of the altars in the Caribbean island. And I must say that it was an event that was keenly felt by the whole population, by the Catholics and also by the authorities. The ceremony, held in the city of Camagüey, was attended by as many as thirty thousand faithful from different parts of the country. Even the media spoke of “a gift for all the people of the island” and of a “milestone” and “memorable stage” and “historic event”.
The Head of State, Raúl Castro, was also present at the mass.
SARAIVA MARTINS: He was in the front row of the crowd. At his side were the Vice-President of the Council of State, Esteban Lazo, and Mrs. Caridad Diego, head of Religious Affairs of the Cuban Communist Party, who kindly accompanied me throughout my stay in Cuba. The presence of Raúl was also, in its small way, a historic event: the president attended a Catholic rite for the first time since he replaced his brother Fidel. During the days of the ceremony the Russian President Dimitri Medvedev was in Havana, nevertheless Raúl decided to come to Camagüey, which is more than five hundred kilometers from the capital. At the beginning of the liturgical ceremony, a deacon, with due discretion, handed President Raúl a Bible. A very significant gesture that took many of those present by surprise.
Some people have interpreted Raúl’s presence as a sign of a thaw in relations between the Church and the Government...
SARAIVA MARTINS: It’s not my job to make that kind of assessment and I leave it to the local church, even though, as far as I know, I don’t think there has been any particular tension in recent times. I must emphasize, however, with gratitude, the willingness of the public authorities to cooperate with the Church in preparation for the beatification.
Did you have any opportunity of talking with Raúl Castro?
SARAIVA MARTINS: Both before and after the ceremony we were able to exchange a few words. The president was very friendly to me, and ended the brief conversation by saying, before saying goodbye, and while kissing my hand: “Please convey my warmest greetings to the Holy Father”. Which I did on the morning of 22 December, at the Pope’s audience to wish Christmas greetings to the Roman Curia.
You mention the coverage of the ceremony by the local media...
SARAIVA MARTINS: In effect Granma, the official organ of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, a day before the beatification, devoted considerable space to the new Blessed. And so did the newspaper Juventud Rebelde. Not to mention that Cuban television broadcast the whole beatification ceremony live, and twice more in repeats. But in addition to national television there were CNN cameras and those of other international companies.
Yet the Cuban media, closely controlled by the governing power, usually does not give space to ecclesial events...
SARAIVA MARTINS: I know the problem, let’s hope and pray that the media coverage offered for the beatification is a good omen for the future, that Brother Olallo performs that miracle also...
And the problem of a freer flow of foreign priests and religious to Cuba?
SARAIVA MARTINS: I must say that the beatification ceremony was attended by a large number of priests, not least because Camagüey is one of the most fervently Catholic parts of the country, and the civil authorities were able to see that they are figures beloved by the people, of whom the established power need not be afraid. I hope the issue you mentioned – which certainly exists – is resolved as soon as possible also with a new flowering of vocations among the Cuban people.
What can you tell us about the situation of civil and political rights on the island and the problem of the US embargo?
SARAIVA MARTINS: I repeat that I prefer to abstain from commenting on those issues, referring back to what the Cuban Church and the Secretariat of State have affirmed in their clear statements on those a"> Italiano Español Français Deutsch Português