Key Documents of National Churches

National Encounter of the Cuban Church (1986)

The greatest event in the Cuban Catholic Church since the revolution has been, by all accounts, the National Encounfer (ENEC). Thousands of Catholics mobilized themselves in a multi-year endeavor to prepare for the Congress. They attended grass-roots meetings throughout the island. Bishops, priests, sisters, and lay participants carried forward the discussion at diocesan and national levels. Their efforts culminated in the Congress.

Throughout it all, Cuban Catholics struggled to tell the truth about themselves. The description of the Church was painful: less than 2 percent of Cubans regularly attended services; the Church could count on barely two hundred priests; and discrimination against active Catholics was still a fact of Cuban life.

Nonetheless, the exercise proved to be a cleansing and energizing one for the life of the Church in Cuba. In the opening address to the Congress, Bishop Adolfo Rodriguez Herrera, speaking in the name of the Cuban bishops, set the tone for the Congress.


At a gathering of priests in 1979, in El Cobre, which was in fact dealing with the topic of hope, Bishop Ascarate made a proposal for a nationwide reflection process, which he himself called "tilting at windmills." No one could then imagine that such a quixotic idea would one day become a reality, and that that hesitant idea was to be the first spark of a vast spiritual blaze enveloping our whole Cuban Church, of which those of us who are gathered here today are a kind of proof. Indeed, from this point on, what was once mere thought is now a reality.

From that first moment, this ENEC' was something real. We are celebrating it here today, providentially during this International Year of Peace, twenty years after the Second Vatican Council, on the 50th anniversary of the canonical crowning of the Virgin of Charity of Cobre, at a time in which a cross given to us by the pope - a replica of the first cross planted on soil in the Americas in 1514 - is being taken around our island and is here with us to preside over this assembly, and on the 133rd anniversary of the death of Father Varela, the Cuban of whom it has been said that as long as there is thinking in Cuba, people will think of the one who first taught us to think.

Gathered here are brothers and sisters from Pinar del Rio and from Havana, from Matanzas and from Cienfuegos-Santa Clara, from Ca-magiiey, Holguin, and Santiago, in an unusual meeting, which is not bringing those from Pinar with those from Holguin, nor those from Santiago with those from Santa Clara, nor laity with priests, but simply bringing together Cuban Catholics, without any artificial divisions, who have brought something of their lives so as to seek together how the Church in Cuba can build communion with God and with the Cuban people of which we form part.

Behind every priest here, stand all the priests of Cuba who are not present; behind every sister here, stand all the sisters of Cuba who are not present; behind every lay person here - man or woman, young, adult, worker, peasant, professional person, student - stand all Cuban lay people. We represent them; we are accountable to them; without them, our presence here would be meaningless. It would mean even less outside them or against them: against their yearnings, their expectations, their opinions, their hopes, which we must not disappoint.

For a Church that has many problems, that has only 200 priests, scant means, poor resources, simple folk, the path over these five years of church reflection has been long, and it has not been easy. But despite its limitations, this Church has been able to bring about this truly historic event. It is a Church that cannot say to the Lord, and certainly not today, "Lord you have not given us anything," for this gathering is proof to us that he has given us the greatest miracle, the most mysterious and difficult mystery, what is called the "miracle of empty hands," the hands that can give even what they do not have. The first to be surprised by this convocation and by this Working Document has been the Church itself.

ENEC (Encuentro Nacional Eclesial Cubano, literally "National Encounter of the Cuban Church") was a national meeting of lay, clergy, and religious held in 1985 after years of preparation through parish and diocesan meetings. To a considerable extent, ENEC represented the first systematic grass-roots effort by the Catholic Church to come to terms with the changes wrought by the revolution, which started some twenty-five years earlier.

About ENEC Back to Top
The Two Coordinates of ENEC

ENEC arose with two basic dreams in its heart. The first was a dream of being a faithful image of our Master, Jesus Christ, from whom the Church is inseparable since from him, it receives its essence and its existence and with them its mission, of whom it is the universal sacrament of salvation since it occupies his place without replacing him.

It also arose with the dream of better serving our Cuban people: serving their happiness, their national unity, their progress, their spiritual welfare. This is the people whose character and history, whose sacrifices and hopes, whose dangers and problems we share. This is the people to whom we as Christians have something to share that connects with the very roots of our identity as a nation, which is Christian, of mixed blood, island-bound, and Cuban.

Our intention is that these two attitudes - fidelity to Christ and fidelity to Cuba - be the two coordinates of our ENEC. At this inauguration, the bishops of Cuba, in whose name I am speaking and whose sentiments I am expressing, wish to encourage everyone, with sincere affection, to act in harmony with this intuition that is at the very root of ENEC.

ENEC as Celebration

During these five years, we have heard priests, sisters, and lay people repeat very insistently that ENEC should not be just one more meeting but, rather, a celebration of the Cuban Church. We are now in the midst of that celebration, in this feast that belongs to all Cubans, for history teaches us that when the Church is happy, whole peoples are also happy.

This is a celebration proclaiming its faith in Christ in whom we believe above anything else, more than in this very ENEC. In him, in his words and deeds, we want to seek together our stance as Church for the here and now. The aim of ENEC can be nothing but that of following the same path as Christ, which is always the same, but which has a thousand different ways of calling the Church to fulfill its mission in this world, experiencing all variations, even the most painful, until it comes to its fullness.

This is a celebration that proclaims our faith in the gospel as wonderful news for any human being, however vulnerable, since the gospel furnishes us with proof of the Father's love, as described in the parable of the merciful Father. This is a celebration that proclaims what Pope Paul VI called, "faith in the human being and in the innate power of good," which is stronger than evil, as love is stronger than hatred, and as life is stronger than death. This is a celebration that, with head held high, proclaims respect for our Christian identity, like the person in the gospel who finds the treasure of the gospel and is ready to lose everything else rather than lose that treasure.

Finally, this is a celebration that proclaims our faith in the Church, but not in the Church as abstract, theoretical, ideal, worldwide, made up of mere theological terms, but in a concrete, practical, real Church, which is called the Church of God in Cuba, whether beautiful or wrinkled, happy or distressed; both holy and sinful; perfect and also perfectible; therefore, a Church continually under judgment by the gospel and continually called to conversion and to holiness of life, to whose merits we all appeal every day when we say to the Lord, "Lord, look not at our sins but at the faith of your Church."

Key Aspects of ENEC

This is a Church seeking to be missionary, for otherwise it would be like a sect heading straight into phariseeism and would cease to be the Church; a Church seeking to be a sign of communion, for otherwise it would be like a Noah's Ark, with a pair from each species, and would cease to be the Church; a Church seeking to be incarnate, for otherwise it would be "opium of the people" and would cease to be the Church.

And if (as all our diocesan assemblies have intuited) our Church in Cuba wants to be missionary and wants to be a sign of communion, then the human Church must be the Church of openness; the Church of dialogue; the Church of participation; the Church with outstretched arms and open doors; the Church of forgiveness; the Church of service; the Church that "washes feet" like the Master (cf. Jn 13:5), that walks two miles with the person who asks one, that hands over its coat when asked for a shirt, and that offers the left cheek to one who strikes its right (cf. Mt 5:39); that is, the Church that in this life always comes forth with something unexpected: serenity, understanding, love.

In reading the Working Document, it seems to us that actually the effort in this ENEC is not to search for new criteria or new principles. The perennial ones are satisfactory for us, those that derive from the gospel and are the very same ones that emerge from the diocesan assemblies. Our effort is rather to seek how to apply them to our specific situation.

The point is to open to others the whole enormous experience of brotherliness and sisterliness, service, unity, solidarity, joy, hope against all hope that we have been living within the Church for twenty-seven years and to offer it to them, so that people may make use of this experience to the extent that their personal freedom may require.

When we read the major points made by our diocesan assemblies, we note that our Catholics simply have changed accents, emphasized aspects, renewed perspectives, read new signs, in a basic continuity with the past and with the gospel, in order to better fulfill our mission on this Cuban soil, which is the good soil of the gospel, where it is enough to sow the seed in order to watch it grow and flourish.

Our Christians opted for dialogue from the very beginning when dialogue was no more than a yearning. They opted for opening, when the doors seemed closed and the curtains drawn; they opted for evangelization, when in our pastoral work, we went no further than so-called silent witness; they opted for incarnation when it was said that religion cannot form good citizens because its supernatural character makes these citizens questionable in affairs of a natural character.

Therefore, no event prior to ENEC had to produce any abrupt change in the direction taken by the original options made by Cuban Catholics, just as no event subsequent to ENEC, whether adverse or favorable, should change this unanimous determination and this gospel intuition on the part of Cuban Catholics who said: "Opening, certainly! May it open new space for the Gospel"; "Dialogue, certainly! May it be sincere and realistic both externally and internally"; "Incarnation, certainly! May it not be like an abstract dogma"; "Evangelization, certainly!..." They also welcomed unrestricted respect for our Christian identity. If nothing had happened along the way to ENEC, such an event would have taken place exactly like this ENEC. Any sign, whether subsequent or prior, would do nothing but reformulate what is already formulated, and re-explicitate what is already explicit.

Some Assumptions

Before beginning our assembly, we bishops believe it would be a good idea to note or to clarify three points that, properly speaking, are not our own since they come from the same sentiments that were expressed in the diocesan assemblies:

1. The ENEC is not seeking a sparkling document, although there will be a document that will belong to the Church, and in that document, the Cuban Church wishes to formulate in writing its pastoral approach. Nor is the purpose of ENEC to celebrate a fiesta, although it is a festive celebration of the Church.

The ENEC was born as a new spirit in our Church, and that spirit is more important than the papers and the celebration. The ENEC will really achieve its objective when this spirit permeates through to the heart of the Church, into its life, institutions, and persons. The ENEC is the lungs of the Cuban Church; the conscious awareness of the Cuban Church; the response of the Cuban Church to new needs, under the teaching inspiration of the Holy Spirit; this spirit is what will prevent our pastoral activity from being paralyzed, anarchic, or false, and that is the number one objective of this reflection.

Nor is there any need to say that ENEC will go down in history as a judgment, for that belongs only to God. It is not true that a person or an institution or a system can change the direction of another from outside through force or condemnation. We are still weighed down with the memory of the high price paid during periods when we sought to combat error through the Inquisition, and it did not work; then we did so by declaring "anathema sit" and it did not work; then by means of the Index, and it did not work; then by means of the Holy Office, and it did not work; finally, through apologetics, and it did not work either. We cannot ignore love for the sake of truth or effectiveness, and "love always triumphs over judgment" gas 2:13). 2. The ENEC only marks an intermediate step and is also heading toward other intermediate steps, leading toward the goal that transcends us and transcends the Church. It is not a finish line, but a new beginning. It seeks to be prophetic, suggestive, and programmatic, looking out at long range. Therefore, the deep intuition of ENEC must be achieved within the patience of the Church, which ever waits, even in the night.

God does not provide everything in this life - nor does ENEC. Nothing in life is until today and from today; life is woven together step by step and so is ENEC. The ENEC cannot deal with everything, treat everything exhaustively, or solve everything. The only thing the ENEC can do is fulfill what the Lord taught: "Walk today's stretch of road today, and tomorrow's tomorrow, without trying to see the whole road."

A question lies implicitly before us: What will be the historic fate of the Cuban Church after the ENEC? Perhaps tomorrow, we will have the impression that nothing has happened, that the sun keeps rising the same as ever, and that everything remains the same. But it will not be the same: as in the blessing of the minister, as in the consecration of the Eucharist, where it seems that nothing has happened, but something has happened, indeed.

In this life, we can err by being too slow, but we can also err by being too hasty. This is the first ENEC. Why must it be the last? Cuban Catholics have a reputation for being very generous, and it will always be easier to ask the generous to be patient than to ask the impatient to be generous.

3. If anyone here is worried about what kind of climate will prevail in this assembly, it is because such a person has forgotten many things. That person has forgotten the climate that prevailed in parish, vicariate, zone, and diocesan assemblies over a five-year period. That person has forgotten that we are Cubans, children of this people schooled in very liberal and tolerant traditions, always able to listen, always able to pay attention, always able to show respect.

Such a person has forgotten the human and spiritual quality of our Cuban priests, sisters, and lay people, of whom our Church feels very proud. They have shown their capability by elaborating this Working Document, which is the most ecclesial and yet the least clerical in our history.

There are many reasons that give us assurance ahead of time that we have not come here to hear our own voices, to see what we can get for ourselves, to make make rash trumpet blasts at this moment, which is not one for trumpet calls but for coherence, realism, and service.

Many eyes worldwide are trained on the Cuban Church which, at this moment, seems to be at the center of things. The fact is that Cuba, its Church, its State, its people, all of us share the opportunity and the responsibility for aiding the overall evolution of the world.

We trust in God, but we also trust in you. During these twenty-seven years, the Cuban Church has entrusted to the laity its most cherished and holy things, the things that the Church regards as of the greatest importance. It entrusted to you the Eucharist so you could take it to the sick; it entrusted to you the sacred Scriptures so you could read them in the assembly; it entrusted you with celebrations of the Word so you could lead them; it entrusted to you parish finances so you could take charge of administration. With the same confidence, the Cuban Church today entrusts to you its future, confident in your responsibility and seriousness, in your serenity and solidity, in your obedience and objectivity.

The Church proves its good will by allowing diversity in unity and equality in diversity, under its universal golden rule: In certis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus charitas. (In matters that are certain: unity; in matters that are doubtful: freedom; in all things: charity).

Reflection of the Heart Back to Top

Brothers and Sisters: In this ENEC, we must think with our head but without smothering the reasons of the heart. We must do so first

because the Lord taught us to see the essential, the deep things, with our heart, and he grieves when human beings think only with their heads: "There is none who thinks with his heart," says Isaiah. The second reason is that the language of the heart is easier for everyone to understand, and that is especially true of Cubans who are friendly, expressive, emotional, little given to revenge or resentment, who do not harbor things for a long time, as was reflected in the surveys in preparation for the ENEC.

No one will find in the Working Document the spirit of revenge, resentment, and recrimination, a desire to focus on wounds suffered, or the rigid discourse of the older son in the parable. Nor will such a person find coldblooded strategy or duplicity or selfish calculation or false compromises or arrogant style. Nor will there be found a striving to be lily-white angels, empty triumphalism, opportunistic adjustment, or the simplistic optimism of those who stuff cotton in their ears to keep from hearing of their own errors and to keep from knowing the errors of others.

The Working Document does not seek to give any further encouragement to the kind of fear that paralyzes, the kind of mistrust that weighs down, the kind of cowardice that masks, or the kind of attitude that inhibits. It does not fall into the error of reductionism in the area of faith, by putting faith to one side or having it challenge or compete with other ideologies as though faith were an experience that could be reduced to any other human experience.

Our ENEC has no aspirations to reconquer power or to salvage positions, favors, or privileges for the Church. The Church wants nothing else but the space it needs to carry out its mission and also to pronounce its ethical and moral - not political - judgment, even on problems that are not strictly religious but are human problems. That is not a privilege but a right and a service: the right of human beings to receive God's Word and to illuminate their whole lives with the light of this Word. In an open and friendly way, the Church wants to proclaim its faith to all human beings, even to those who consider it their enemy, for the Church does not want to feel like anyone's enemy. In sum, the Church hopes and expects that the faith will cease being a problem, a weakness, an ideological distraction in our country, and that the future will not look like the past.

In order to arrive at that point, the Church has no other way and no other language but the way and language of the heart.

The Hope of the Church

The Spirit is going to lead us over his ways, which are not our ways, toward imitating Jesus ever more faithfully and toward an ever closer communion with our Cuban people, with whom we share an amalgam of faith, culture, and race, and with whom we also share the good fortune of having been born here.

By our nature, we Cubans are able to build anything together. Together we are going to build this road of the Spirit, taking the credit for whatever goes well in our country, and when things go wrong, humbly asking ourselves what we can do to make them go right.

Open to the Spirit's unpredictability, the Cuban Church wants to be the Church of hope: remembering the past, living the present, and hoping toward the future.

We have a hope, and we want to offer words of hope to those who request them of us, to those who need them, to those whose gaze is fixed only on earthly things, thus limiting their human aspirations, and who feel that they are missing something. We have neither the very first nor the very last word, but we believe that there is a very first and very last word, and we hope in the One who has it, the Lord. Toward him we look with serene confidence toward the ever uncertain future. For we know that tomorrow before the sun rises, God's providence will have arisen over Cuba and over the whole world.