12/14/13 - Cuba Headlines - Cubans speculate about replacement for 77 year old Havana cardinal
When the Cuban bishops' conference announced its new officers in November,
Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino was not in a leadership position.
As required by canon law, the 77-year-old archbishop of Havana submitted
his resignation in 2011, and his replacement as vice president of the
conference triggered speculation he would soon be replaced in the capital
Church leaders often serve years beyond when they submit their
resignations. When Cardinal Ortega submitted his papers, the Cuban church
was about to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the discovery of the image
of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, Cuba's patroness.
In August, the cardinal will celebrate the 50th anniversary of his priestly
In the meantime, the search for his replacement has already begun, at least
among church analysts and members of the media outside the island.
Eduardo Mesa, a Cuban Catholic who headed the Havana archdiocesan magazine
then known as Espacios, now lives in Miami. He said he believes Cardinal
Ortega's replacement will be chosen from among the bishops serving in Cuba.
In his blog "Cuba Plural," he writes that, "given the complexities of the
archdiocese and of Cuba, it is not likely that a priest would be chosen for
that job." The possibility of appointing a Cuban bishop serving outside
Cuba would always remain open, but it is not probable.
The church in Cuba has three archbishops, including the cardinal, and 10
bishops, two of whom serve as auxiliaries in Havana. Though the Vatican
estimates about 60 percent of Cubans are Catholic, local church officials
estimate that only about 2.5 percent of Cuba's population of 11 million can
be considered practicing.
In selecting the future archbishop for the capital, Pope Francis could
consider several aspects: a candidate's age and overall health, his
pastoral profile and experience and the complexity of the country and of
the dioceses involved.
Should the pope want a "transition" archbishop, in terms of the number of
years, he might select Bishop Jorge Serpa Perez of Pinar del Rio. The
71-year-old bishop served 31 years as a missionary in Colombia. Upon
returning in 1999 he served as vicar general in Havana and as rector of the
archdiocesan seminary, so he is familiar with the archdiocese.
Bishop Manuel de Cespedes Garcia Menocal of Matanzas, 69, also could be a
transition archbishop. He was born in Havana and in 1960 emigrated to
Puerto Rico, where he became an electronic engineer. He eventually entered
the seminary for late vocations in Venezuela, where he was ordained and
served for 12 years. In 1986 he returned to Cuba, serving as chancellor and
vicar general in Pinar del Rio, until he was appointed bishop of Matanzas
Civic activist and intellectual Dagoberto Valdes, who worked closely with
Bishop Cespedes in Pinar del Rio, describes him as a man who has a vision
for the future.
At 68, Archbishop Dionisio Garcia Ibanez of Santiago de Cuba is serving a
second term as president of the bishops' conference, and analysts say he is
performing well. His vocation to the priesthood emerged after years of
professional life as a communications engineer. He is from Guantanamo and
served as a priest in eastern Cuba until 1995, when he was named founding
bishop of the Diocese of Bayamo-Manzanillo. In 2007 he was appointed to his
current position in the second-most important city in the island.
Pope Francis also might consider a number of younger bishops.
Among them is 63-year-old Bishop Emilio Aranguren Echeverria of Holguin;
only Cardinal Ortega has been a bishop longer than he has. For 14 years,
while Bishop Aranguren was bishop of Cienfuegos, he served as the Cuban
bishops' conference secretary-general, a job that gave him ample
opportunities to relate to representatives of the Bureau of Religious
Affairs in the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party. He has also
served on the Economic Committee of the Latin American bishops' council,
CELAM, and is well-connected to other Latin American prelates.
Mesa told Catholic News Service Bishop Aranguren would be a good candidate
because "he has great capacity for work, is a good administrator and has
Bishop Juan Hernandez Ruiz, 65, is a Jesuit who has served as auxiliary
bishop of Havana since 2006. As such, he already knows the archdiocese has
good rapport with the clergy and, being a Jesuit, he is well acquainted
with the issues that religious life faces in Cuba. His nomination would not
effect changes in other dioceses, as the nomination of other bishops would.
A name that rarely is mentioned by the media as a possible candidate is
Archbishop Juan Garcia Rodriguez of Camaguey. The 65-year-old is very much
a bishop in the style of Pope Francis. Known for his missionary spirit and
as a man of prayer, he has the ability to remain calm in the midst of any
storm. He has served as president of the Cuban bishops' conference and
represented Cuba in the 2007 meeting of Latin American and Caribbean
bishops in Aparecida, Brazil, in 2007.
The youngest candidate is Bishop Arturo Gonzalez Amador, who will turn 58
Jan. 16. Within the Cuban bishops' conference, he has the important task of
dealing with Cubans in the diaspora. His appointment would mean bypassing
other bishops with more experience and years of service.
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