Photos by: Luis Felipe Rojas
On numerous occasions I have said that this is not a news blog. Here I can only hope to accumulate my travel reports, to make a map (for me) about the days lived, and on many occasions to be in places but not be visible due to my double condition of capturing an image and then writing about it. That’s why, today, on this blog, I have posted what was seen and felt on July 31st, when Monsignor Pedro Meurice Estiu was buried in Santiago de Cuba.
On the 30th, the government and the communist rulers of the province celebrated, surely under the orders of the superiors, the Day of the Martyrs. While it may be true that they celebrate it each year, this time, on the eve of Meurice’s burial, they are saying that it was the apotheosis. On the 31st, the roads of Santiago de Cuba, covering a diverse range of Eastern entrances, was inundated by uniformed men, as well as those dressed as civilians. Though this time, save for some exceptions, the majority of those who decided to go out were allowed to arrive. I had to board two separate means of transportation starting at 4 am until I arrived to the Cathedral of Santiago. There I saw Laura Pollan and Reinaldo Escobar, among others who had come from Havana. Also present was Jose Daniel Ferrer, the brave activist Samuel Leblanc, women like Aimee Garces, Tania Montoya, and other democrats from the Eastern provinces. There was an extreme heat over Santiago. When the mass commenced, it felt like we were roasting inside the central building, but one had to get in there whichever way possible. According to some, it was calculated that more than one thousand people were inside and outside in the patios.
A humble man
The words of Monsignor Ibanez, current bishop of Santiago de Cuba, surprised me. Not because Meurice didn’t deserve them, but because Ibanez is a member of the Cuban Catholic Bishops Conference, a group which usually does not honor those who go against the Castro regime. There was a moment in which the majority of the attendees remembered, by repeating in unison, the words of Meurice Estiu to Pope John Paul II in that Santiago plaza- one of the few occasions which such a truth has been told to the Cuban nomenclature. I saw lots of humble people crying when the coffin was taken through the street. In conversation with local Catholics, many were surprised to see so many non-practitioners of the Christian faith, yet who showed up as a sign of respect. “Meurice,” someone told me, “was a success”.
Once, during early 2004, I went to a communicator’s meeting in the Sanctuary of El Cobre. Meurice closed that workshop with such clarity, so much so that to this day many remember it. A day before the meetings came to an end, I went down to the city in the morning. In the corner of Enramadas and Carniceria I noticed a commotion. Pedro Meurice had gotten down from his car and was chatting with some well known ladies. But the conversation kept going, eventually becoming a chat with the public. He blessed some kids, gave an appointment to a lady so that she could drop by later to pick up a mattress for her child, and so on, until they practically forced him to get back on his vehicle.
The funeral procession traveled down the hot and narrow streets, down through the poor neighborhoods which surround the Santa Ifigenia cemetery. People waited for him on their porches and on the sidewalks. The police did not bother the dissidents which had their fists up, signaling a “V” shape for ‘victory’ and “L’ for ‘libertad’ (freedom). In the morning, I received news that independent journalist Alberto Mendez Castello was detained in Las Tunas in order to prevent him from assisting the burial.
The truth is that with this death, the authors of the 52-year long oppression can sleep calmly, because for them it is a thorn which has been removed from their throats. I cannot help but think of the story of when the Cuban bishops visited the Vatican in 1998 and Pope John Paul II told them these words, about the San Luis native (Meurice), while grabbing their hands: “That’s how bishops should behave”.
Luis Felipe Rojas