Jose Conrado Rodriguez, a Cuban priest who has been highly critical of the communist government and the Catholic Church hierarchy, confirmed Sunday he will be moving from Santiago de Cuba to a parish in Cienfuegos.
He also will be writing a book and giving lectures on the history of the image of Our Lady of Charity in the El Cobre Basilica, Cuba’s patron saint, at the request of Santiago Archbishop Dionisio García, the priest told El Nuevo Herald.
Rodriguez said he welcomed the book assignment and that García offered him a one-year leave from his pastoral duties to write it. But he wanted to remain a pastor and obtained a new parish assignment in the south center port city of Cienfuegos.
“I don’t think [the book] is a punishment. I think Dionisio really wants this book, and I want it also. I will do it with excitement,” he said by phone from his Santa Teresita del Niño Jesús church in eastern Santiago, Cuba’s second-largest city.
Sometimes called “the people’s cardinal,” the 62-year-old Rodriguez has criticized Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega, and a U.S. diplomatic cable made public by WikiLeaks reported that he had complained the church “is not in the arena.”
He was ordered transferred in 2010 to the village of El Cristo on the outskirts of Santiago but he held on to Santa Teresita until now — at least publically because the priests who were supposed to replace him were delayed in another assignment.
Santa Teresita was badly damaged by Hurricane Sandy last year. Government officials wanted the church to be torn down but Rodriguez found independent experts who said the church could be fixed, according to friends of the priest.
“It has not been easy in recent times,” Rodriguez said. “But today I said my goodbyes to the community and on Friday I hand over the parish.”
“I am very happy to leave the parish in the hands of my successors,” three Cubans, he said. The country of 11 million people, officially atheist from 1962 to 1992, has only 340 priests, slightly more than half of them foreigners.
The parish runs several canteens for the needy; educational and sports programs for children; and computer classes for youths and adults.
Rodriguez wrote a public letter to Fidel Castro in 1994 blaming him for Cuba’s chaotic economy, asking for fair elections and urging him to open a dialogue with dissidents and exiles.
He was sent to study in Spain in 1996, with his supporters saying that church hierarchs wanted to both protect him and get him out of the way. He returned to Cuba just before Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1998.
After State Security agents burst into this church in 2007 to arrest 15 young dissidents gathered inside, he publicly condemned the event as a “terrorist party.”
Rodriguez followed up with an open letter to Castro’s brother and successor, Raúl Castro, in 2009 urging changes not only to the economy but also to the island’s Soviet-styled political model.
“When problems are not solved, they are like wounds. And when the infections are big, they can take the life of the patient,” he wrote. “In a situation like Cuba’s, a disposition to dialogue and respect for the other is fundamental.”