Jaime Ortega, Pastor and friend

by | 21 Mar 2024

Text: Bishop Juan de Dios Hernández Ruiz, sj

When I was asked to share about my experience with Cardinal Jaime Ortega, so many pleasant memories began to surface in my memory that my first action was to thank God for allowing us to coincide in time and space, because I have discovered that my life of faith was enriched by the testimony of a man who knew how to love the Church on pilgrimage in Cuba with all the strength of his heart. He was a bridge builder and in spite of the fact that many times he was not understood, he remained faithful to his option to reconcile the brothers among themselves, and all with God.

We knew each other since the first years of my life as a seminarian. Soon after, he was appointed Bishop of Pinar del Río. Today I feel the privilege of being able to occupy his see, which means a great commitment for me. He took office on March 21, 1979 and was pastor until November 20, 1981 when he was appointed Archbishop of Havana. He was heir to a Church that wished to publicly manifest its faith, but had been reduced to a few faithful. However, he was a laity tested in martyrdom and burning with apostolic zeal. During his brief service to the Diocese, he went to several parishes on Sundays so that the essential religious service would not be lacking. He made the project of remodeling the Cathedral, although he could not carry it out due to the difficulties of the moment. He was greatly concerned about the vocational problem and increased the missionary spirit in the diocese.

In October 1994 he was named Cardinal. God was giving us a gift as a nation and as a Church, and he knew how to respond to that call as the servant of his people.

As Archbishop of Havana, we were able to work together, strengthening the bonds that had already emerged years before. On January 14, 2006, I received from his hands the Episcopal Consecration, which was an undeserved privilege. Jaime became the teacher who prepared my pastoral action for the future as pastor of souls.

I was a witness of his efforts in the simple acts of his apostolate, as well as of the great missions to be carried out when receiving the visits of the Supreme Pontiffs: from St. John Paul II to the current Pope Francis. His dedication as President of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba, his concern for the formation and social work of the P. Félix Varela Cultural Center and the magazine Palabra Nueva, the construction of the current headquarters of the San Carlos and San Ambrosio Seminary, his extremely important role as intermediary in the process of reestablishing relations between Cuba and the United States, his intercession, together with other brothers in the episcopate, before the Government to achieve the amnesty for political prisoners, etc.

There is a long list of actions that accompanied his departure to the Father’s House that July 26, 2019. He remains in our memory, as the solicitous, simple shepherd, with the smell of sheep.

Jaime Ortega, Cardinal, Alamino, continue to intercede for us, so that this, your Church, may remain faithful to Jesus Christ and always remain at the side of the Lord.