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Cuba's Catholic Bishops Challenge Castro: Give Christmas Back

December 25, 1991|DON SHANNON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — In a challenge to Fidel Castro's Marxist government, Cuba's Roman Catholic bishops have called for the restoration of traditional Christmas celebrations, a practice long discouraged by the regime, the State Department said Tuesday.

"No explanation of the suppression of Christmas in my country has ever satisfied me," Cuban Archbishop Jaime Ortega wrote in a statement drafted at the conclusion of a Cuban bishops conference in November but released by U.S. officials on Christmas Eve.

"We are in need of traditions which bring the family together, putting aside opinions and points of view to find ourselves in an atmosphere of love to allow the feelings of tenderness, compassion and friendship to blossom," Ortega continued. "People need that kind of holiday; children need, and adults, too, the harmless legends which all the people of the Earth have. I cannot get used to children without legends, nor seeing the family gathered only at the funeral parlor when we sadly say goodby to a loved one."

Ortega said Cuban Catholics have struggled to preserve Christmas as a religious observance, but he noted that the "organization of society" in the Communist state frustrates their efforts.

"There are no school vacations, the holidays which went from Christmas to Epiphany have been suppressed," he wrote. "It may be that a child in elementary school will have an examination on Dec. 25. It is probable that many teen-agers and youngsters study in rural schools and do not have vacation and spend Christmas far away from the family, nor is there a day off on Dec. 25, which is not an official holiday."

Besides the Christmas message, the Cuban bishops warned Catholics that they should not join Cuba's Communist party "as long as it remains atheist and materialist," although the party has relaxed its long-time ban on accepting Christians as members. The conference also denounced Castro's regime for "acts of repudiation" in which mobs allegedly backed by the government have attacked dissident human rights supporters.

In a frank reference to the economic crisis engendered by the loss of Soviet support for Cuba, the bishops' statement said:

"In the state of irritation and even of exasperation in which so many of our brothers find themselves because of the profound economic crisis which increasingly affects us, these violent situations become even riskier and forebode sad days for our country. We make an appeal to all parties, especially those who have direct responsibilities for public order and the political orientation of citizens, not to permit acts of this kind to be encouraged, so that we do not fall into the dangerous cycle of hate and revenge."

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