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A ‘Francis Effect’ in Cuba

For the Rev. Cirilo Castro, the news that Cuban authorities had approved the construction of a new church came as a relief: instead of traveling miles to celebrate Mass in a converted garage, soon he will minister full time in a new church in the town of Sandino. Thanks to the recent resumption of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba—achieved in part through the intervention of Pope Francis—Father Castro, along with others, will be able to practice their faith openly without fear of reprisals.

The Cuban faithful have long been hoping for this. With the new church construction, Bishop Jorge Enrique Serpa Pérez of Pinar del Rio hopes to see the foundations for a renewal of faith laid down as well: “There is money to start; there is the construction material to start; there are the permissions to start; so everything is ready.” Conditions in the country first started to change after the 1998 visit of St. John Paul II, when Christmas was declared a national holiday. Today there are cautious hopes that the Catholic Church will be a beneficiary of the breakthrough in U.S.-Cuba relations, in which the Vatican played a crucial role.

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As Father Castro says, “I hope the church doesn’t stay within the four walls, that it will go farther than that.” He hopes that in time, with the new churches, “there will be more people of faith.” A rebirth of faith in Cuba, an officially atheist state, would leave little doubt that the Francis effect has reached the peripheries of the church in the New World.

Keeping Sunday Sacred

It is not often that we in the United States take a lesson on workforce practices from our friends in France. The land of the 35-hour workweek is generally seen as antithetical to our country’s Weberian work ethic. But the current debate underway in Paris on Sunday business practices offers an opportunity for reflection.

France has traditionally reserved Sunday as a day for rest. Though this practice has roots in the Judeo-Christian tradition, it is also a legacy of the French labor movement and has become a firm part of French culture. After first defending the tradition during his campaign, President François Hollande has now declared it to be antiquated and hopes that allowing more businesses to open on Sunday will help to jumpstart the economy. A surprising coalition of secular and religious groups oppose the measure. Hollande’s critics on the left worry about the creeping consumerism of the West, while Cardinal André Vingt-Trois of Paris has endorsed the benefits of a “common day of rest.”

One does not have to be a Francophile to sympathize with these arguments. Yes, it is nice to have shops open on Sunday to run errands or stroll the mall, but the convenience usually comes at the expense of retail workers. In the United States workers must now abide by haphazard work schedules, which make it difficult to schedule childcare or outside schooling, in addition to working weekends and holidays.

France’s Sunday customs grew out of a desire to protect French workers who were forced to work seven days with no rest. Who will defend the rights of today’s workers? It is time to think again about what we mean by economic progress.

Neighborhood Watch

After each instance of gun violence in this country comes another chapter in the ongoing debate over how best to legislate gun control and ensure the safety of our communities. But the question remains: How do we prevent this violence in the first place? A study conducted in New Haven, Conn., by researchers at the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program at Yale University suggests a seemingly simple solution: love your neighbor.

Researchers noted that gun violence can traumatize entire neighborhoods and communities, in addition to those individuals directly involved in the violence, but that tight-knit communities are better able to weather these traumatic experiences. In some ways, ongoing neighborhood violence creates trauma comparable to that endured by communities that experience natural disasters. So researchers looked at the way in which communities survive and recover from natural disasters in the hope that similar principles—encouraging social cohesion, resilience and capacity-building activities—can be applied to communities experiencing gun violence as well.

New Haven residents filled out surveys about the violence in their neighborhoods and about their connections to their neighbors. In many violent neighborhoods, few knew their neighbors, but two-thirds knew someone affected by violence. Yet many expressed a desire for increased communal events, youth programs and better relationships with police. Catholic communities can and should play a role in building connections like these within the larger social body. Such efforts can help to create resilient neighborhoods that are better able to move forward after violent situations. They will also be better positioned to prevent them in the first place.

* CORRECTION, Jan. 30, 2015: Bishop Jorge Enrique Serpa Pérez was initially described in error as bishop of Sandino. He is the bishop of Pinar del Rio. Also, it was wrongly stated that after the visit of Pope John Paull II, Christmas "could be publicly celebrated for the first time since the Cuban Revolution of 1959." Christmas was publically celebrated for many years before it was made a national holiday in 1998. 

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Leonard Villa
2 years 11 months ago
What breakthrough in Cuban-American relations? What has changed on the part of Cuba and the communist regime there? America, or I should say President Obama, simply caved and Cuba is issuing more demands as the price of "normalization." Are there any strings attached (subservience to the regime, for example) in the permission for the construction of new churches? It's not like the Church or the U.S. has had no experience in dealing with communists. There is still the continuing problem of the government Patriotic church in China as an example of government sponsored Catholicism. Beware of Greeks bearing gifts. During similar accolades of detente and Ostpolitik there were Trojan horses within the the Church in the various communists countries, subservient to the government and its ideology and often spying on non-compliant clerics and church-members for example the so-called "peace priests" in Hungary. Russian Patriarchs collaborated with the KGB. This happened during the pontificate of Bl Paul VI while martyrs Catholic, Orthodox, and separated Christians languished in Communist prisons and concentration camps becoming expendable. Do we really need a repeat called a Francis effect? It remains to be seen what practicing the faith openly really means in the eyes of the communist regime in Cuba.

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