After requests from the archdiocese, local police have removed protestors from a Catholic Church in Cuba who had occupied the building for two days insisting on a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI.
“Nobody has the right to turn churches in political trenches,” said spokesman for the Archdiocese of Havana, Orlando Marquez.
“Nobody has the right to disturb the celebrative spirit of the Cuban faithful and of many other citizens, who are awaiting the visit of the Holy Father Benedict XVI to Cuba with joy and hope.”
Th group of 13 protestors were removed without resistance from the Minor Basilica of Our Lady of Charity on March 15 after Cardinal Jaime Ortega spoke with local officials.
“Cardinal Jaime Ortega addressed the competent authorities to invite the occupiers to abandon the sanctuary,” read a statement from the archdiocese.
The group, all members of Republic Party of Cuba, entered the church on March 13 and had insisted on an audience with Pope Benedict during his March 25-28 visit to the country in order for him to mediate a list of grievances with government officials.
Although their demands were heard by the rector of the basilica, Father Roberto Betancourt, and by the chancellor of the archdiocese, Msgr. Ramon Suarez, the dissents had refused to leave the church.
Despite Church authorities' history of support and empathy for other groups of political dissidents in the country, Marquez called the recent incident “illegitimate” and “irresponsible.”
Prior to police arriving, “every attempt to persuade them was useless,” he said, adding that by Wednesday morning, “we learned that similar situations had taken place in other churches in the country, where the occupiers had already decided to leave.”
Within the last week, other protestors had occupied the Church of St. Isidore in Holguin, the Cathedral of Pinar del Rio, and the Church of St. Jerome in Las Tunas.
Marquez called it an “organized strategy by various groups in different regions of the country,” charging that the events were “not a coincidence, but something well thought out and apparently aimed at creating difficult situations as the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Cuba approaches.”
He noted that every day thousands of the faithful pray in the churches of Cuba for political prisoners, for those suffering injustice, for the deceased and for those in need.
Churches are houses of prayer “open to all those who seek an answer to their spiritual and even material needs from God, or to give thanks for a grace they have received.”
“For this very reason, every act intended to turn a church into a place for public political demonstrations, ignoring the authority of the priest, or the right of the majority who goes there in search of spiritual peace and a place for prayer, is certainly an illegitimate and irresponsible act,” Marquez said.
While the Church welcomes all, she “cannot accept attempts to distort the nature of her mission or that put the religious freedom of those who visit our churches in danger,” he underscored.
“We invite those who think and act this way to change their outlook, and if they are men and women who consider themselves Catholic, to begin to act like one.”