Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino

Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino

October 6, 2014

Beaupré, Quebec – Evangelization starts small, Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino of Havana told Canada's bishops and went on to share examples that helped renew the Catholic Church in Cuba.

Ortega told the bishops how the cathedral parish in Havana would organize a celebration of all young people from the well-populated neighbourhoods.

Few come for Communion, some are preparing for Baptism, but all will go out and do social service for the poor, he said.

At night, when it's cold, they will go out and help the people sleeping in the streets, perhaps giving them hot chocolate.

Groups of young people also got involved in visiting a residence for elderly people. Their efforts attracted the attention of a doctor who worked there.

He became friends with these young people, who worked to improve the facility by painting it and continuing their visits.

The doctor became a friend of the community, was baptized, had his child baptized and started to attend church, Ortega said. He eventually became the director of that residence and now, every 15 days, Mass is celebrated at that facility.

"We have to start, knowing someone is going up a ladder," Ortega told the bishops at their plenary meeting in Beaupré, Quebec, Sept. 16.

In a neighbourhood, someone might hold prayer meetings in their home, the cardinal said. He might send a seminarian to visit each Saturday.


Ortega recalled one woman in his diocese who lent her house for 12 years every Saturday. People filled the garden, the garage, the patio, filling every available space. Even more packed in for Holy Week and Christmas, he said.

The community grew to 140 people who go to Mass every Sunday and now have a priest, he said. "That's how it starts."

"It starts with this house which is accessible to the neighbours," he said. "They hear the singing."

One woman, active with the neighbourhood defence committee during the Cuban Revolution, did not go to church, he said. Four doors from her house was a small community that would pray every Friday.

"One day somebody knocks at the door. It's her," he said. "'May I come in?'" she asked. "'Yes, you are welcome!'"

"She becomes quite involved in this small group," he said. "She took a step and went over the barrier between revolutionaries and Catholics."


"There are walls, all kinds of walls, bad memories from the past that have also to be brought down, and that's the way we do it," he said.

Every year at the Easter Vigil, the Church has catechumens who range from 17 to 25 years old, he said. Very often the people preparing them for Baptism say, "We don't have enough staff who are competent; the priest doesn't have enough time."

They often don't have a sister available to help. They have to appoint someone to help out who was baptized only two years previously, he said.

"We have to train ourselves through action," he said. "People start doing something; they are providing a service in the Church."