Remembering when the Catholic schools were closed in Cuba
By Silvio Canto, Jr.
Just read a story about a man known as Padre Gilberto, an American from
Mississippi who is a priest in Cuba:
The parishioners at La Merced church in Old Havana, one of Cuba’s most
important shrines, know their bearded, soft-spoken priest as Padre Gilberto.
But his real name is Gilbert Walker. He’s from Gulfport, Miss.
Walker, 56, has been a priest at La Merced for 12 years. He was the only
American Catholic clergyman in Cuba when he arrived in 2003.
Today there are two others, but over the past half-century of strained
relations between the United States and Cuba, no American priest has
been a missionary on the island for as long as Walker.
“I felt at home in Cuba from the first moment I arrived,” he said,
speaking at the rectory where he lives behind the soaring 147-year-old
church, set along narrow streets among crumbling apartment buildings.
“I can’t imagine myself any other place.”
“Sure, life would be easier and more comfortable in the United States,”
he added. “But I didn’t become a priest to have an easy life.”
Good for Padre Gilberto!
Pope Francis will visit an island that kicked out priests and nuns many
In fact, I remember that quite well.
In the 1960s, my younger brother and I attended The Maristas School in
Havana. It was a pretty traditional Catholic school for boys. I can
still remember that we wore a blue shirt and put on a white tie and
those light-colored pants. I will never forget the big baseball diamond
where the older boys played against other schools. We used to dream of
making the team and wearing those fancy uniforms.
Our education was interrupted one day when the schools were closed and
all of the religious people expelled. All of a sudden, a vibrant center
of education turned into an empty facility.
Sadly, the building eventually became a political prison, well-known for
torture. Armando Valladares, one of Cuba’s most famous political
prisoners, wrote about it in his book Against all Hope. I remember
reading the book and feeling terrible that the classrooms and spaces
where we spent our youth later witnessed the torture of Cubans. It took
me a while to get over that.
Why did Castro target the church? Like many other groups, the Catholic
Church kept reminding Fidel Castro that he promised elections as soon as
possible. Of course, Fidel Castro did not like being reminded that he
promised elections and a few other things. Dictators don’t like that!
So he threw the priests and nuns out of the country.
My brother and I eventually moved to a public school, along with all of
the other friends from Maristas. We were quickly reminded that
education in Cuba was more than teaching kids about reading and writing.
The schools became the regime’s indoctrination centers. History was
rewritten, and the U.S. became public enemy #1.
Source: Blog: Remembering when the Catholic schools were closed in Cuba