Cuban police evicted 13 dissidents from a Catholic Church in Havana at the request of local Church leaders, 10 days before Pope Benedict XVI visits the communist island.
The protest by 13 men and women was “illegitimate and irresponsible,” as it intended to turn the church into a place of public political demonstration, said Orland Marquez, a spokesman for the Havana Archdiocese.
“If they are men and women that consider themselves Catholics, they should act as such,” Marquez said in a statement. Similar protests in other parts of the country were abandoned because groups considered them “disrespectful to the church,” he said.
The protesters entered the church in the evening of March 13, demanding that Pope Benedict XVI hear their grievances during his March 26-28 visit. The Church’s decision to call in the police failed to honor the tradition of an institution that has served as a sanctuary for the people, said Dr. Jose Azel, senior researcher at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami.
“This protest is part of the impotence of the Cuban people,” he said in a phone interview. “They are basically asking for freedom through the Catholic Church, which historically is a place of refuge for the people, and it appears it was not heard in this case.”
The dissidents were removed from the interior of the Nuestra Señora de la Caridad Church in central Havana “without resistance,” Marquez said. The police had assured the Church its agents would not carry weapons and that the protesters would be transferred to a police station and later to their homes, he said.
“I look at this protest as symbolic of the repression that exists in Cuba,” Azel said.
Pope Benedict XVI’s visit will be only the second visit by the head of the Catholic Church to Cuba. Pope John Paul II visited the island in January 1998.
The Archdiocese said this week’s protests will not disrupt the Pope’s visit.
“No one has the right to disrupt the celebratory spirit of the faithful Cubans, and many other citizens, that await the visit of the Saint Pope Benedict XVI to Cuba with jubilation and hope,” Marquez said.