Priests Hold Mass in Ladies in White Home, Defying Cuban Ban on Dissidents Entering Church

Kyodo via AP Images
Kyodo via AP Images

Following 109 Sundays in which the communist Cuban government had denied them entry to their local church, the Ladies in White dissident group received two Catholic priests to deliver Mass in their headquarters on Monday.

The two priests, Fathers José Conrado and Castor Álvarez, led what those in attendance described as an “emotional ceremony” meant as an act of defiance against the oppression of the Castro regime.

“We are not in favor of this grave, severe violation of religious freedom in our country of preventing the Ladies in White from participating in the cult of the Church,” Conrado said. “It is a way of saying that we are concerned and deeply interested in respect for human rights in our country.”

“Since they are not permitted to reach the church, the Church has come here to celebrate the holy Mass,” Conrado told reporters.

The Cuban dissidents, he added, were “giving witness to what the struggle for rights and defense of liberty for all is.”

The Archbishop of Havana, Juan de la Caridad García, has yet to comment on the incident. The Vatican has rarely commented on the Ladies in White, and largely refused to challenge the Castro regime on its many human rights abuses.

The head of the Ladies in White group, Berta Soler, told Martí Noticias that it was necessary for the group to maintain utmost discretion about the Mass to prevent the government from acting against the priests or dissidents who wished to attend. The publication notes that March 20, 2016, was the last time the government allowed the Ladies in White to enter the Santa Rita church they have frequented in Havana for Sunday Mass since the Black Spring of 2003. Then-president Barack Obama was in Havana at the time.

Since then, the United States policy towards the Castro dictatorship has changed significantly. In a June speech, President Donald Trump announced reforms to the American policy towards Cuba meant to keep American money out of the hands of the government. In the speech, he described Cuba as suffering incidents such as “believers persecuted for preaching the word of God, you watch the Women in White—bruised, bloodied, and captured on their way from Mass, you have heard the chilling cries of loved ones or the cracks of firing squads piercing through the ocean breeze.”

The Ladies in White are a group of mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, and other relatives of political prisoners in the communist state whose main act of protest is to wear white and march to church on Sundays holding gladiolas and the images of their imprisoned relatives. They are regularly subject to beatings, abductions, and violent arrests, and the Cuban government routinely organizes violent mobs to shout obscenities at them and trap them in their homes, incidents known as actos de repudio (“acts of repudiation”). While they have been prevented from entering their church, they have continued to march in Havana and throughout the island every Sunday.

“They shouted obscenities at us, called us whores, lesbians, told us to come out so they could beat us,” one dissident group member said of an attack in March 2017, estimating that the crowd contained about two hundred people. “They called us mercenaries, paid for by the Empire [the United States], told us to get on a raft and go.”

On Sunday, July 16, dissident Ángel Moya told international media outlets that at least 55 Ladies in White were arrested, including his wife, Berta Soler. Over the weekend, the government reportedly sponsored carnivals in western Cárdenas city, diverting the drunken crowd to the homes of Ladies in White to hurl insults at them and block their doors, preventing them from leaving the house.


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