Key remarks by Dr. Fidel Castro Ruz, President of the Republic of Cuba, at the dedication of the Convent of the Order of the Most Holy Savior of Saint Bridget.
Havana, March 8, 2003.
Your Eminence Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, special envoy from the Vatican to this event;
Your Eminence Cardinal Juan Sandoval Íñiguez, Archbishop of Guadalajara;
Monsignor Luis Roble, Apostolic Nuncio in Cuba;
Dearest Mother Tekla Famiglietti, Abbess General of the Order of the Most Holy Savior of Saint Bridget;
Distinguished religious and lay personalities gathered here;
Women from Cuba and from all over the world that celebrate today the International Women’s Day, we also dedicate to them this especial and beautiful event:
The year was 1956. We were in Mexico. We had boldly declared that by the end of that year, we would either be free or we would be martyrs.
That was almost 47 years ago. And that was when the story of Mother Tekla began.
One day in June of that year agents of a major Mexican security agency arrested me with some of my comrades. A young Mexican army officer that no one had heard of at the time, Fernando Gutiérrez Barrios, headed it.
The precautionary measures that made us suspects and led to our capture were a result of the real danger of our physical elimination by another state authority, with which Batista was trying to remove the leadership of our movement through paid agents.
Given the way our arrest came about and our determination to defend ourselves in the belief it was a case of abduction, the fact that we came out alive was an incredible stroke of luck. Chance intervened on our part. We were in the hands of a force led by an honorable officer. At first they thought we were part of a smuggling ring; it was in vogue at the time. Drugs were not back then the major problem they are today. There was no information about Cuba. However, that officer soon realized that what he was dealing with was a group of dedicated and resolute patriots.
He rigorously fulfilled his duty at all times. Although he persistently sought out any possible leads on weapons, and found quite a few, he did it for other legal reasons. At the end, he and his men even felt some admiration for us.
General Lázaro Cárdenas, a true moral beacon for his people, took an interest in our case, and that helped to shorten our prison time and limited the worst consequences of the incident, although the measures of control and surveillance remained rigorous until our clandestine departure from Mexico. Nevertheless, the unexpected meeting with that security officer would mark the beginning of a friendship that lasted until the end of his life. As the years passed, he went on to occupy positions of great responsibility in his country. If it were not for him, there might not have been any reason for telling this story today.
In September of 2000, Gutiérrez Barrios visited Cuba, as he had done on other previous occasions. But this time, a distinguished group of Mexican Catholics came with him. Their aim was to carry out a special effort to try to bring an end to the cruel blockade imposed on Cuba. During that visit, he introduced us to a Mexican religious personality for whom we feel special respect, the prestigious Cardinal Juan Sandoval Íñiguez, Archbishop of Guadalajara. He was also accompanied by representatives of the Bishops’ Conference of Mexico: Luis Morales Reyes, chairman; Monsignor Abelardo Alvarado, secretary; and Monsignor Luis Barrera, associate secretary, along with Mexican businessman José María Guardia.
In their noble and friendly desire to bring an end to an injustice that dated back more than 40 years, they hoped to count on the support of numerous religious institutions, including some in the United States.
This was when we met Mother Tekla, currently the abbess of an Order founded in 1370 by Saint Bridget who renounced her social status and all her earthly wealth although she was the daughter of a wealthy and noble Swedish family. She would die in 1373.
Mother Tekla visited Cuba four times between May of 2001 and November of 2002. Her energy and dedication, her generosity and liveliness quickly won her the affection and friendship of all of us who met her. Her religious Order now has 46 houses in 15 countries. As was only natural, she expressed her strong wishes for the order to be present in Cuba as well. The world-renowned Mother Theresa of Calcutta had done the same a few years before. Hers and other similar Orders have received permission, both before and after the Revolution, to carry out their activities in Cuba. They primarily devote themselves to providing services of enormous human value in senior people’s homes, in hospitals, social assistance centers and other similar institutions. Their work, as a rule, is hard and selfless, and has always received recognition, gratitude and support in our country.
Mother Tekla had a particular wish to inaugurate the Convent of the Order of the Most Holy Savior of Saint Bridget on the fifth anniversary of the Pope’s visit to Cuba. As every noble and non-counterrevolutionary effort related to Cuba, it met with a certain opposition abroad, but also with the support of numerous religious institutions, particularly outstanding personalities of the Mexican Catholic Church who promoted it, and the encouragement of the Vatican, where Mother Tekla is highly regarded for her work in the Order that she has successfully headed for more than 20 years.
The religious institution contributed significant sums to the project. Cuba, for its part, through the plans for the reconstruction of Old Havana, now internationally recognized, provided a suitable location and assistance in the building of this institution.
We are here today, therefore, to dedicate not a school, a polyclinic, a factory, a hotel or any other of the thousands of social or economic works carried out by the Revolution, but rather the new home of a noble, symbolic and prestigious religious institution.
In this modest ceremony, taking place at a crucial moment for all humanity, I would like to express our recognition for the humanitarian efforts carried out by the mothers and sisters of numerous Orders of various religious denominations, who devote their lives to alleviating the pain and suffering of many people in need, something we have sincerely praised on more than one occasion.
Likewise, we would like to pay a respectful tribute to all of the churches and religious leaders everywhere in the world who are opposing war and struggling for peace today.
I would like for this place to be an example of ecumenical spirit.
It is neither necessary nor possible to change the religious beliefs and motivations of billions of people; but intransigence and hatred between men and peoples can and must be eradicated. To rule out such an alternative would be to deny the human condition of our species.
Special respect, certainly accepted by many followers of other religions, is deserved by the determined and tireless efforts of Pope John Paul II toward peace, despite his physical ailments, in his fervent attempts to prevent a war in the Middle East, which could have disastrous human, political and economic consequences for the whole world.
I would very especially like to express our profound gratitude to Mother Tekla and our friends in the Mexican Catholic Church, who requested and achieved the presence of this prestigious order in Cuba, and made it possible to dedicate this beautiful symbol of brotherhood and peace today.
A world of peace and justice is possible. This is what we are trying to prove here today.
Thank you, very much!