by Peter Stanford RELATIONS between the Catholic Church in Cuba and Fidel Castro's regime are improving steadily as Christians adjust to the challenge of living in a socialist state.
This was the view expressed in London last week by Dr Raul Gomez Treto, a former president of Catholic Action in Cuba from the days before the 1959 revolution until the organisation was disbanded worldwide. Dr Treto, in London en route for the Christian peace conference in Czechoslovakia, spoke enthusiastically of a "big event" planned for March when the Cuban Church would gather "to draw the main lines of our pastoral policy in a socialist society". The meeting would also commemorate seven decades of the proclamation of Our Lady of Charity as Cuba's patron saint, the 200th anniversary of the first native Cuban bishop, and would take place at the same time as the Communist Party'sthird congress.
The meeting will come in the wake of increasing contact and
growing trust between the Church and the Government. President Castro has already held several rounds of talks with the bishops, and a new law is aboul to be promulgated recognising the Church's freedom as an organisation.
"Things are improving very much" Dr Treto said. He is a lawyer by profession, and is both legal adviser to the Cuban Catholic bishops' conference, and adviser on civil law to the Ministry of Justice.
From his unictuely well-placed position, he had become involved in the Cuban Church's period of self-examination as it asked "what can we do for the Cuban people, where can We cooperate?", he told his audience at Heythrop College and at the Catholic Institute for International Relations.
In this field of social morality particularly, he felt that both church and state were aware of the pressing work to be done together.
The impetus towards coming to terms with the Castro revolution in Cuba had come both from basic christian
communities through Latin America and from the country's bishops, he said. The events of 1959 "shook the whole church". In education, in many other social fields, the Church fell victim to laws which sought to end their influence. Catholics became involved both in fact, and by implication, in counterrevolutionary movements. Yet the mass of the Cuban people, despite their Catholicism, welcomed the changes and the benefits that the Revolution brought. Because of the attitude of well-placed Catholics, others were not welcomed in the offices of state.
Yet in the years . after the Cuban revolution, the Church itself both in Latin America and in the world at large underwent a revolution, Dr Treto said. The impetus of Vatican II, of Puebla and of Medellin, led the Cuban Church to slowly come round to the view that as Christians, "we have to find out how to live in a socialist society". The Church has to recognise that the Cuban revolution has been a "success", he went on, although he admitted that "great mistakes by the government and by Castro" had been made.
Yet just as Castro had found that European Marxist models were no use in shaping a Latin American country, so the Vatican must realise that the Cuban experience of socialism, as for that matter the Nicaraguan also, was not the same as the Church in eastern Europe, Dr Treto said.
Now the Church had grown to realise that "the real task of the Christian Church was to help Our people to develop as human beings in a just society". The Cuban bishops had come round to this position. They "need support", for "they have been confused for many years", Dr Treto noted, adding that more conservative elements in the Vatican and in Central America were putting pressure on them.
He rebutted suggestions that low Mass attendance figures meant that the Church in Cuba had lost its flock. At the grass roots a strong tide of Catholic feeling still existed. It was the bishops task to "reintegrate those feelings into the Church by outlining that Church's role in society.