September 4, 2015

Faith, Hope and Charity / David Siler

A prayer to never forget our Cuban brothers and sisters

David SilerI have had the rare privilege of traveling to Cuba on three occasions as an archdiocesan representative of our global solidarity partnership with the Archdiocese of Camaguey, Cuba.

By far, the most talked about and celebrated event in Cuba’s history that I heard about multiple times during my journeys was the visit by Pope John Paul II in 1998.

This was the first-ever visit of a pope to the island nation. It left an indelible mark by the re-opening of churches that were formerly forced shut by Cuban President Fidel Castro. I know that Pope John Paul II had a private meeting with Castro. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall to overhear that conversation!

Now, anticipation is building for the visit of Pope Francis to Cuba in mid-September. I can only imagine the hopefulness in the hearts of the Cuban people as they await his pilgrimage. Francis’ stop in Cuba on his way to the United States will highlight his role as a peace broker between our two countries, and should serve to boost efforts to mend relations after more than 50 years of bitterness.

The pope’s visit, along with the proposed changes to the U.S. trade and travel embargo which Pope Francis and the Vatican helped to broker, may be just what is needed to open up a new era between our two countries. I have seen firsthand how the U.S. embargo has only served to add to the poverty and hopelessness of the Cuban people.

The U.S. Conference of Bishops said when the new Cuba policy was announced publicly, “We believe it is long past due that the United States establish full diplomatic relations with Cuba, withdraw all restrictions on travel to Cuba, rescind terrorist designations aimed at Cuba, encourage trade that will benefit both nations, lift restrictions on business and financial transactions, and facilitate cooperation in the areas of environmental protection, drug interdiction, human trafficking and scientific exchanges. Engagement is the path to support change in Cuba and to empower the Cuban people in their quest for democracy, human rights and religious liberty.”

The gift of freedom that we enjoy in our country is such a profound blessing. Having been born and raised in the United States, I never truly appreciated the importance of freedom until I traveled to Cuba. I long for the day when any of you who wish will have the freedom to travel to this beautiful island filled with beautiful people who long for our friendship.

The isolation that the Cuban people feel from our country, only 90 miles away, is tremendous. I will never forget the time when my traveling companions from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and I met with a group of neighbors in a remote rural area. They welcomed us with painted signs, hugs and kisses, and one woman pulled me aside, took both of my hands and said to me, “Please, please, my dear brother, never forget us!”

I have never forgotten that woman and her neighbors as I pray for them every day, and I ask you to never forget these, our brothers and sisters, who have no voice of their own.

(David Siler is the executive director of the archdiocesan Secretariat for Catholic Charities. E-mail him at

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