I have been traveling to Cuba since the mid-1990s — (in fact, I got back last night. I was there over the weekend to attend the ordination of a new bishop in Ciego de Avila).
There, the Catholic Church is practically the only independent institution on the island; and in that sense, it is, and will continue to be an incubator of civil society. And civil society must grow if Cuba is to successfully transition from a totalitarian form of government to a more democratic one. The Church is helping to grow civil society — through libraries, independent publications, Caritas (social service) programs, etc.
And the Church wants a “soft landing” for Cuba — and thus the bishops of Cuba have opposed the embargo and favor engagement rather than isolation. And so the Cuban church has welcomed the reestablishment of relations between US and Cuba. Religious freedom is still much restricted in Cuba — it’s better than what it used to be (Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1998 marks a “before” and “after” in relations between the Cuban state and the Catholic Church); but it’s not what it should be. But since the 1990s the Church has been gaining new space — and hopes to continue to do so. Today, from its own meager resources, it is helping with the recovery after Hurricane Irma. Parishioners from Maisi, the eastern most tip of Cuba, loaded up a truck with malanga and plantains and brought it to the Caritas of Camaguey. Later this week I hope to send about 8 chainsaws to the archbishop of Camaguey. (If nuns here in Miami can wield chainsaws, so can bishops and priests in Cuba.)
Archbishop Thomas Wenski gave this talk at Fla. Gov. Rick Scott’s 2017 Latin America Summit, held Oct. 2 in Miami. (Read full text at Archdiocese of Miami's website)