Communists claim him for his anti-colonial fervor, and dissidents claim him as an inspiration for political reform. But Father Felix Varela was first and foremost a man of the church, Cardinal Jaime Ortega reminded Cubans in his most recent pastoral letter.Last month, on the 150th anniversary of Varela's death, Ortega released the 27-page epistle, calling for the spiritual values Varela inspired -- hope and compassion. He tackled a range of topics, from high abortion rates to national reconciliation and the desperation that leads many to leave the island. The letter, which many describe as his most candid snapshot of Cuban society, addresses the heartache of divided families and the stress of balancing a legitimate government job with work in the black market just to make ends meet.
"Without the help and generosity of Comandante Fidel Castro we would not be here today," said Mother Tekla Famiglietti, Abbess of the Order of Saint Bridget founded by a 14th Century Swedish mystic.The event was attended by two cardinals, the Pope's envoy Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe and the Archbishop of Guadalajara, Mexico, Cardinal Juan Sandoval Iniguez, and Italy's deputy foreign minister Mario Baccinni. But the Archbishop of Havana, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, was notably absent, pointing to tensions between the church's leader in Cuba and the Castro government, which the prelate publicly criticized in a recent pastoral letter.