BY AGOSTINO BONO IN WASHINGTON DC
THE Church in Cuba's role in national life after President Fidel Castro relinquishes power is not to be political but to accompany the people wherever the future leads, two Cuban Catholic leaders have said.
"I don't think the people see the Church as a political player. Nor has the Church presented itself as a political player," said Orlando Marquez Hidalgo, spokesman for the Cuban bishops' conference.
Fr Rene Ruiz Reyes, Havana archdiocesan delegate to the bishops' national commission for priests, insisted that "the mission of the Church is to accompany the people along the road" at a time when no one in the country can predict the future.
Both Cubans were interviewed by the Catholic News Service while in Washington last Friday to meet with officials of the American Conference of Catholic Bishops. They were part of an 18-member delegation of Cuban priests and lay people who initially arrived in the America to attend a gathering in Miami with Cuban Catholics living in America.
Mr Marquez said that the role of the Church now is to offer a helping hand to Cubans and "it would be an error to see the Church as having a political role".
Fr Ruiz said that Cubans were shocked to learn that Castro was sick and in hospital after ruling without interruption for 47 years.
Nobody knows what will happen, said the priest. People are waiting to see if Castro will make an appearance in December because that is when he said he would publicly celebrate his 80th birthday, which took place on August 13.
At the end of July Castro underwent an operation to treat internal bleeding and ceded power to his brother, Raul Castro, while he recuperated.
By the beginning of October no date had been set for Castro's return to power, prompting speculation that his health would prevent him from resuming control of the country.
"Time will tell if his brother [Raul] takes over," said Fr Ruiz. No matter what happens the Church will be ready to help the people spiritually and "enlighten them through the Church's social teaching," he said.
Fr Ruiz said that the informal yearly meetings in Miami between Catholics from Cuba and Cubans living in America began in 1997 as a way of fostering mutual understanding.
The meetings have also helped Cubans in America who complain that the Cuban Church is not critical enough of the Castro regime to understand the problems in the relationship between Church and state.