A Shepherd to My People
With great sadness the international Catholic pontifical charity has received news of the passing of His Eminence Cardinal Jaime Lucas Ortega Alamino, who dedicated his life with such care and humble concern to the service of the People of God on the island of Cuba.
ACN had the privilege of working for many years with Cardinal Ortega who, thanks to his great spirit of cooperation, contributed to the realization of many important projects on behalf of the Church in Cuba and in the Archdiocese of Havana in particular.
Below we publish a tribute to Cardinal Ortega, written by Sergio-Lázaro Cabarrouy, a Cuban layman who has long been involved with the Church in his country and who knew the Cardinal since his own childhood.
“Mummy, can we talk to Monsignor Jaime and ask him to move the time of the Mass? I can never watch the cartoons on TV.” I can still recall the mischievous grin on my father’s face and the quick response from my mother: “Why don’t you ask him yourself?” That Sunday, the Bishop of Pinar del Río arrived a few minutes late for Holy Mass for the seven Catholics gathered together in San Diego de los Baños. “The water has risen in the dam, and we had to make a detour,” he explained, as he began the celebration.
After Mass, as usual, the little community gathered together with our Bishop and parish priest to chat a little and drink some juice, which Bishop Jaime always thought very sweet. On that day, without beating about the bush, I put my “reasonable” concern directly to him. In response, in a solemn voice and looking me directly in the eyes, he told me: “It is a good thing that you have to give up the TV cartoons in order to come to Mass. In fact, you will have to give up much more important things than this in your life for the sake of Jesus Christ.”
I was thunderstruck, and for many months I kept going back over those words, and I wasn’t very convinced by them. However, life has since then proved to me overwhelmingly the truth of those words of this man of God, and I give thanks to Almighty God for having given me the light and the strength to freely give up those cartoons – since my father would never have forced me to go to Mass – because undoubtedly since then following Jesus Christ has involved much greater trials, and this was an early training for them.
I recall how the homilies of Bishop Jaime succeeded in overcoming the fears of many a San Diego resident – who found themselves first of all sitting in the park, looking towards the church, then at the church door, then in the last bench at the back, and then finally in the second or third row. I also recall how he endeavoured to engage in dialogue with the teachers and headmasters at my primary school, who were eager to get me to abandon my “obscurantist practices, relics of the past.”
The life of Cardinal Jaime Ortega was one of a caring shepherd who always took the path of dialogue with those of all faiths and none, and who attempted the difficult task of serving as a bridge. As he himself explained, a bridge is made of the same materials as a wall, but it serves to join both banks of the river, rather than being built up to separate people from one another. A bridge is built so that people can walk over it, unlike a wall, which towers above us. It is the only approach that could have enabled me, years after those “struggles” of the 1970’s, to go up to that same school teacher, who was awaiting news of her own daughter in the same maternity ward as my own wife, and say to her, “I have been praying for your daughter and her baby” and have the joy of witnessing her reply: “Thank you so much! We needed that.”
One Cuban bishop told me how he had never seen his brother bishop, the Cardinal, happier than when he was travelling with him to visit recently founded Catholic communities in remote places where the faith had previously been abandoned in his rural diocese. It was shortly before he retired as Archbishop of Havana. “He was as happy as a child!” And indeed he was a priest close to his people, a man of dialogue, a promoter of the unity of the Church and a fervent Cuban, committed to bringing the support of the Christian faith to society. In all this he made mistakes, in the view of some people, almost as great as his successes, but he never deviated from his course, like a navigator persevering in sailing out “into the deep” (Lk 5:4).
His courage enabled him to achieve things that were unthinkable at the time, such as launching publications and periodicals right at the beginning of the so-called “special period”, mediating in the sharp dispute between Cuba and the United States in order to re-establish diplomatic relations, and funding a centre for Higher Studies in order to bring continuity to the educational work begun by Padre Varela in the same building.
May the Lord, in his infinite mercy, receive the soul of this son of Matanzas, born in Jagüey Grande on October 18, 1936, the child of Adela and Arsenio, who responded to the call of God to the priesthood and to whom high responsibilities were entrusted. And who, knowing himself ultimately inadequate to the task, chose as his episcopal motto the phrase: “My grace is enough for you” (2 Corinthians 12:9).