HAVANA, CUBA (Greek News & Compined Agencies)
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew concluded yesterday his five day official visit to Cuba, consecrating the new St. Nicholas cathedral, in capital Havana. President Fidel Castro, gave the key of the cathedral to the spiritual leader of the world’s 300 million Orthodox Christians. Patriarch Bartholomew I in turn honored Castro with the Cross of St. Andrew the Apostle, which is given to supporters of the Orthodox faith.
Balancing a heavy golden crown encrusted with jewels on his head, the white-bearded patriarch circled the new cathedral several times during the ceremony conducted in a swirl of Greek chants and pungent incense.
Castro, dressed in a gray suit, looked tired after reportedly staying up all night with a visiting foreign delegation. He left quietly after the exchange of gifts outside the small sanctuary of cream-colored stone with brick trim, about halfway through more than four hours of ancient ritual.
Shortly before the gift exchange, the patriarch spoke out against the U.S. trade embargo of more than four decades against Cuba.
“The blockade of peoples and countries is a historic error,” the patriarch said in Greek, which was then translated into Spanish. Problems between people and nations, he said “are resolved through dialogue and communication.”
Also at the ceremony were hundreds of Greek-Americans, as well as Orthodox church members from Greece and other nations.
American officials in Havana were disappointed when the patriarch failed to show at a Saturday night reception at the home of U.S. Interests Section Chief James Cason, whose guests also included a number of vocal Castro opponents. Archbishop Demetrios of America said the patriarch had other commitments.
Cuba’s best-known activist, Oswaldo Paya, spoke with Demetrios at the American reception and gave him a statement to be delivered to the patriarch, asking for his blessing.
“We want peace, we want reconciliation, we want and we can undertake our own Cuban project of justice and democracy — but with the liberty Our Lord God has given us,” wrote Paya, a Catholic and top organizer of the Varela Project, a signature gathering drive that seeks deep changes in Cuba’s socialist system.
Speaking at a luncheon, on Saturday, Patriarch Bartholomew call for all nations especially in Latin and Central America and the Caribbean to respect human rights.
US officials that met on Wednesday in Washington, with Greek American leaders, have expressed their disappointment on the Patriarch’s decision to honor Castro.
The Cuban people and its leadership, headed by Fidel Castro himself, welcomed the Head of Orthodoxy, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, on Wednesday night at “Jose Marti” airport with sincere emotions of love, friendship and gratitude. In statements to NET Greek state television, the Patriarch stressed that the seclusion of a people from the international community and the violation of human rights and religious liberties are equally condemnable acts.
The Ecumenical Patriarch expressed satisfaction for the measures adopted by the government and the people of Cuba for the protection of the environment and stressed that the consequences, stemming from the incorrect way the serious environment protection problem is being dealt with, are felt by the humanity as a whole and not just by those responsible for the pollution.
Mr. Vartholomeos stated that the interest of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the protection of the environment is rooted in the belief that the environment is a work of God.
The Ecumenical Patriarch also reminded that for a number of years the Ecumenical Patriarchate has undertaken actions for the protection of the environment, and referred to the speeches he delivered, and the ecological and environmental seminars, as well as those held in cooperation with the EU in the Aegean, the Black Sea, the Danube, the Adriatic and the Baltic Sea.
The Patriarch had three long meetings with Fidel Castro, while he visited hospitals and he spoke at a central hall in Havana on the environment.
Speaking at the dinner held in his honor by the Greek Ambassador to Cuba, Georgios Costoulas, Bartholomew stressed that “the Cuban people thirsts for Christ, and life with Christ, life in Grace”, and he added that the sorely tried by its history people hears Christ’s voice say: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest”.
And this voice is more clearly heard through the worship, the dogma and the tradition of the Orthodox Church, a fact that creates greater obligations for us, which we must confront with a spirit of love and missionary zeal.
During the dinner, the Archbishop of America Dimitrios was also honored, while special mention was made of the work of the Metropolite of Panama and Central America.
Cuban leader Fidel Castro asked for the assistance of Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomeos for books on the monastic community of Mount Athos and Christianity to be sent to Cuba during a dinner given in Havana by Greek-American businessman John Catsimatides. Speaking to the Greek reporters covering the visit, Fidel Castro said that he would like to visit Greece especially during the Athens Olympic Games but he has no visa. The main issue of discussion during the dinner was education at a time characterized internationally by a crisis in values.
The new cathedral will be used by the island’s estimated 2,000 Orthodox Christians. Church members include diplomats and foreign businesspeople from countries such as Greece and Turkey, and people who immigrated here during the Soviet era. The church was the brainchild of Metropolitan Athenagoras, the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan for Central America and the Caribbean, and Havana City Historian Eusebio Leal. Metrpolitan has credited former King of Greece Contanine for the role. He said that Constantine had convinced Fidel Castro, a couple of years ago to built a new orthodox church.