In memoriam for Pedro Meurice Estiú
Archbishop Emeritus of Santiago de Cuba
They called Archbishop Pedro Meurice Estiu “the lion of the East” for his more-than-proven bravery in the face of the arbitrary and authoritarian. That January 24, 1998, in Antonia Maceo Plaza in Santiago de Cuba, his face is serious, deep in thought. Pope John Paul II has just finished his homily and the Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba was to address his flock and the Shepherd who had come to visit it. Before taking the podium, Meurice spoke with the priest Jose Conrado Rodriguez Alegre and told him, “This lion is old with a shaggy mane, but it will roar.” He took the microphone and kept his word.
Facing the surprised Santiagans gathered there, and those who were watching the live on television, Meurice’s address seems to interpret our thoughts, to spring from our own mouths. “Holy Father… I present to you a growing number of Cubans who have confused the country with a party, the nation with a historical process we have lived through in recent decades, culture with an ideology.” And on this side of the screen, many of us did not stop applauding, crying, jumping, looking at the shocked and annoyed face of Raul Castro at the foot of the dais. No one had told the Minister of the Armed Forces–in public and before so many witnesses–truths of this nature. Some escaped in fear from that immense square, but others? The boldest? They were chanting the word, “Freedom.”
“This is a people that has the richness of joy, and a material poverty that saddens and overwhelms it, barely letting it see beyond immediate subsistence,” the lion continued to roar. And in our lethargic civic consciousness something began to stir. Meurice had returned to his years of greatest vitality and the swords that emerged from the ground of that Plaza flew in the face of a rebelliousness lost in some corner of history. For a few brief moments we were free. The homily ended, the severe gesture of our current president presaged scoldings for the old lion, but the crook of John Paul II would protect him.
Today, Pedro Meurice has left us, with his nobility of the feline guardian of the litter, leaving us with the responsibility to present ourselves to the world. How are we going to describe ourselves now? Who will be believe that 13 years later we haven’t been able to “demystify the false messiahs”? How will we explain the fear that has led to paralysis, to continuing to wait for others who will roar for us?