On any other night, Rev. Gerald Keucher and his flock of activist faithfuls might be participating in an anti-war demonstration or having an interfaith dialogue with the local imam. But in late September, the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization and Pastors for Peace -- two of the charter members of International ANSWER, the front group for the Marxist-Leninist Workers World Party -- issued a call to gather at a church near the Hudson river. The reverend and his followers, along with many city council members and civic leaders, came running.
A September 27 article in Episcopal News Service, explains what brought all these believers together in the Episcopal Church of the Insurrection -- that is, er, Intercession. Actor Danny Glover and former United States Attorney General Ramsey Clark sat side by side in the pews with devout Marxists and Episcopalians of various ages and social status. Almost five hundred devotees packed the house, ENS reported, for the privilege of attending a reception for the official Cuban delegation to the United Nations General Assembly.
Keucher, the vicar of Church of the Intercession, inspired unanimous applause when he welcomed the Communist officials. He declared that the parish was part of the Episcopal Church, “which has long opposed the blockade of Cuba.” His incorrect term -- blockade sounds much more dramatic than trade embargo -- was the same one used by Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold when he went to Cuba in February 2006. Griswold had told Cuban Episcopalians that he was “saddened to see the suffering caused by the policies of [his] country's government” and that “the Blockade has done little except exacerbate the suffering of the Cuban people.” Neither Griswold nor Keucher mentioned the suffering of Cuban Christians and other dissidents living under constant harassment and persecution, many in Cuba’s 300-plus prisons.
Instead, one member of the Cuban United Nations delegation, Felipe Perez Roqué, foreign minister of the Republic of Cuba, told the rapt crowd that Cubans live every day with the fear that the Bush administration has preemptive war plans against their country. One wonders whether he told them that in fact it is the U.S. delegation to the UN that fears assaults by the Cuban delegation. Not without reason: In April of 2004, at the UN offices in Geneva, an official Cuban delegate, angry that Cuba had narrowly lost a vote censuring the country, punched one of the U.S. public delegates on the top of the head as he was going down the escalator. Frank Calzon, a Cuban exile and director of the Center for a Free Cuba, was knocked unconscious. Only U.N. security guards armed with mace, and a former Marine, the U.S. Permanent Ambassador to the UN, Kevin Moley, prevented the Cuban delegation from further attacks. Where are the Pastors for Peace when you need them?
At the September gathering at Church of the Intercession, the guest pastor for peace and community organizer (a la the famed radical activist Saul Alinsky) the Rev. Lucius Walker, Jr., executive director of IFCO, led the prayers at the communion-with-Cuba service. According to the glowing report in EPS, Walker announced that since they were in an Episcopal church, they would do “something they call ‘Prayers of the People.’” This is an Anglican form of prayer in which the priest petitions the Almighty or gives thanks. For instance, the priest might say, “For the poor, the persecuted, and all who suffer; for refugees, prisoners, and all who are in danger; that they may be relieved and protected, we pray to you, O Lord.” And the congregation answers, “Lord, have mercy.” An appropriate prayer for Cuba.
But rather than adhering to this traditional format, Walker uttered a series of statements about the country that he and those gathered seemed to consider heaven on earth. The response, which the congregation gave enthusiastically, was: “We give you thanks, Cuba!” Then, EPS reports, a second litany was added. This one was not led by a pastor, but by the head of Cuba’s U.N. delegation, Esteban Lazo Hernandez. For his contribution to the desecration of the prayers, Hernandez, who is also the vice president of the Cuban Council of State, asked a group of young Americans a series of questions. Who, he asked, should be given the credit for this or that “great moment” in Cuba’s history? Who is responsible for Cuba’s many accomplishments: free health care, employment for every citizen, etc.? The answer to each question, obediently parroted back, first by the young people, and then by the whole church, was “Fidel!”
Cuban foreign minister Roqué predicted to the worshippers that “one day there will be normal relations between our two countries.” While one hopes for normal relations with a free Cuba, those are disturbing words when spoken of a Cuba under Communist rule. Yet, many in the Episcopal Church and elsewhere would revel in such a relationship. Clueless American teenagers don Communist chic, with “Che” and “Fidel” peering out from their t-shirt fronts. Adults, who should know better, sport Communist slogans and posters at protests in Manhattan, San Francisco, Chicago, and elsewhere.
Most shamefully, Christian churches invite Cuban Communist officials, not to share the Gospel of Christ with them, but to join them in praising the murderer of countless of their co-religionists. How obscene that within a Christian church Cuban Communist officials and U.S. Episcopalians have joined in an antiphony of praise to Castro similar to the shouts of “Viva Fidel Castro!” and “Viva la Revolucion!” by Communist revolutionaries. Would that they recalled the shouts that came from many of Castro’s religious prisoners. Followers of Christ, they met their deaths in front of the firing squad with the words “Viva Cristo Rey!” (“Long Live Christ the King.”) Surely this is a declaration more fitting for a church.