Against All Hope

Faith, Prison and Hope in Cuba

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, 
and all your mind 
~Matthew 22:37 

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At the beginning of Advent, Fidel Castro died. His death calls to mind the witness of some remarkable people of faith in Cuba. Here is an excerpt from the book “Against All Hope” by Armando Valladares, who Amnesty International had designated as a “prisoner of conscience”. It is his personal account of faith, prison, and hope, and is a good reflection since Advent is the great season of Hope.

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I was unjustly imprisoned when I was 23…accused of crimes I never committed. At that time book covermy religious convictions were genuine, but probably superficial. My religious beliefs had been learned at home and at school, in the way a child learns good manners or the alphabet. Nevertheless, that minimal religious conviction singled me out as an enemy of the Cuban communist revolution, and somehow helped convince my judges and accusers that I was a potentially dangerous adversary.


However, as soon as I was in prison, I began to feel a substantial change in my religious beliefs. In the first place, I embraced God, perhaps for fear of losing my life, since I was in danger of being executed. Today, 22 years after those nights of horror and fear, that way of going to Christ seems to me human but incomplete. Later, I had another Christian experience: grieved with pain, I saw many young people — most of them farmers and students — die, shouting “Long Live Christ the King!”


I realized then that Christ could be of help. Not merely by saving my life, but also giving my life and death if that was the case, an ethical sense that would dignify them.


I believe that it was at that particular moment, and not before, when Christianity, besides being a religious faith, became a way of life that in my own circumstances resulted in resistance. Resisting torture, resisting confinement, resisting hunger, and even resisting the constant temptation to join the political rehabilitation and indoctrination programs that would end my predicament.


But resistance as a Christian could not be a blind form of temerity or courage, but a thoughtful, calm stance in defense of my democratic belief; a commitment to maintain my dignity and self-respect, even in the bottom of a cell, naked and being turned into human refuse.


To be Christian under those circumstances meant that I could not hate my tormentors; it meant to maintain the belief the suffering was meaningful because if man gives up his moral and religious values, or if he allows himself to be carried by a desire to hate or for revenge, his existence loses all meaning.


I should add that this experience has not been mine only — I saw dozens of Christians suffering and dying — committed like myself, to maintaining their dignity and their richness of spirit beyond misery and pain. Today, I remember with emotion Gerardo Gonzalez, a Protestant preacher, who knew by heart whole Biblical passages and who would copy them by hand to share with his brothers in belief. I cannot forget this man whom all of us called “Brother in Faith”. He interposed himself before a burst of machinegun fire to save other prisoners…beaten in what is known now as the massacre of Boniato prison.


Gerardo repeated, before dying, the words said by Christ on the cross: “Forgive them, Father for they know not what they do”. And all of us, when the blood had dried, struggled with our consciences to attain something so difficult yet so beautiful…to forgive our enemies.


For God, there are no impossibles. Nor are there impossibilities for those who love and seek God. The more ferocious the hate of my jailers, the more my heart would fill with love and a faith that gave me strength to support everything; but not with the conformist or masochistic attitude; rather, full of joy, internal peace and freedom because Christ walked with me in my cell.




Heart, Soul and Mind

Monsignor Royal's weekly column as featured in our bulletin.


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