Friend of Justice

The Passing of Msgr. Céspedes

He bore one of the most storied names in Cuban history. The Padre de la Patria, Father of the Nation, who freed his slaves and issued the first declaration of independence in 1868 was his great-great-grandfather, also Carlos Manuel de Céspedes. Two other grandparents, one a Céspedes, the other a García-Menocal, served as presidents of Cuba. Msgr. Carlos Manuel de Céspedes y García-Menocal, the faithful priest, seminary rector, spokesperson for the bishops’ conference, and prolific writer who died January 3 in Havana, was also a great Cuban patriot.

Céspedes was born in Havana in 1936 and ordained in Rome in 1961, just before the Second Vatican Council. He returned to Cuba in 1963, in the midst of the harshest church-state conflict the country had known. Recognizing that irreversible change had come to both his church and his country, he set about doing what was possible to preserve the integrity of the Cuban church even as its educational institutions were shut down and many of its clergy and religious expelled.

Early on, Fidel Castro’s regime determined that no other institutions would be allowed to challenge the Marxist government’s total control of the lives of its citizens. The Protestant churches, largely dependent on U.S.-based denominations, offered no threat, and so some of them were cosseted by Castro as exemplars of his policy of...

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About the Author

Tom Quigley is a former policy advisor on Latin American, Asian, and Caribbean issues to the U.S. Catholic bishops.