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Interview of fr. Manuel Uña Fernández, O.P.

Prior Provincial of Bética

Interviewed by Fr. Luis Ramos, O.P.

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How did you come to meet the Order?

I was born in Zamora and studied humanities in Almagro, la Mancha (Spain), and got to know the Order through a Spanish Dominican who was very warm and approachable, deeply kind and of a calm disposition, with his white and black habit giving shape to his simple and attractive personality. The following year I visited his house, along with my mother since I was barely twelve years old, and I asked him about his life and his ministry. I just asked him, "Where do you come from, and what is your work?" He answered, "More than anything else I do two things: pray and study." These are the conditions for being able to announce the Word of God. That impressed me, and I never forgot his words.

As far as studies go, I did the routine course of studies of the Order: humanities, philosophy and theology in Granada and later on in Madrid and Rome.

What Dominican apostolate has given you most satisfaction?

I was ordained when I was just a little over twenty-three years old. I was sent to Almería where I worked for eleven years working with manual laborers and many people who for the most part never lived in their own homes. They taught me in many ways what they expected of a priest: they wished him to be close, in solidarity with them, and free to be able to talk with all and to speak the truth to any person or group whatsoever. It was there that I learned to sacrifice myself, as they did, for the sake of others.

The Order bestowed on me a great responsibility: to be Master of Novices. By helping my younger brothers to grow, I grew myself. Giving instruction in and following the processes of self-knowledge, I grew more self aware. It was a call to live from within.

Really, my Dominican life, what I have been able to learn, to live and to pass on are a great source of satisfaction to me. I believe that this is due in part because the Order of Preachers places much value on the human person. I am also zealous to collaborate with my Creator, so that what he created and deemed "very good" might not deteriorate or suffer any impairment. I want to collaborate so that the person know himself, recognize himself from within, and be happy by using what the Father has given him, and by knowing God, God might give him the power to bring to light all the good there is in the human being. For this reason I say that I am completely satisfied in being a Dominican, because we are dedicated to cultivating the intelligence to the point of being able to give a reason for things' having been brought into being. Definitely, the object is to cultivate the intelligence to be able to give a reason for one's faith: not only for one's thoughts but also for one's affections. for me, this is proclaiming the Gospel of Grace and Truth.

The Province of Bética has houses in Cuba. What has been your experience on that island?

I got to know Cuba while Provincial of Andalucía (Bética) in 1986. I had the opportunity of visiting eight times afterward, always departing from Mexico City. Since the Mexicans are very generous, I always arrived in Cuba bearing many gifts. One day the customs inspector in Cuba asked me why I was carrying so much baggage. I answered "I am a religious and I'm here to see my brothers." "And what are you bringing?", he asked. "As much as I can," I answered. The only thing that caught his attention was an image of the Christ child. After examining it, he said in a sincere voice, "How I love all this," referring to the faith. This detail opened up to me an unknown world within the heart of the Cuban people.

What did you find, living in Cuba for almost eight years?

The truth is that I was entering into it little by little. As Provincial, I sent all the friars I could and later I went myself in 1993. I wish to say that for me it was a great moment of Grace. I had the privilege of knowing the Cuban people, a people with great solidarity, cordial, known for their generous and affectionate manner and whose singular virtue is the ability to listen to the word of others. I always knew I was dealing with respectful and open persons. I was honored and happy to be among them. I was able to develop my work as a friar preacher. After eight years I am certain that they love me, and what's more, that I carry them in my heart.

I also must say something about the Cuban priests and their bishops, with whom I was in close relation. I had scarcely arrived when the Bishops Conference invited me to direct a retreat for all the clergy. It was a great responsibility and a demonstration of confidence, which I appreciate for all it is worth. When I left, I was invited again to give them the retreat in preparation for Holy Thursday. I had the opportunity of expressing my most sincere gratitude, for the warm reception they gave me, and for renewing their confidence in me as I was leaving.

What's going on at the priory in Havana?

We have opened up the Priory of Saint John Lateran (which is how all the people call our Priory of Saint Dominic) to everyone. We have placed a sign at the entrance that bears a few words of José Martí: "Beloved Dominicans-always good, even with America! The priory has become a place of hospitality, of reflection, where no one feels excluded. People from all cultures, of different backgrounds, have participated in dialogues. People from the Church come through, people from government, from the world of culture, from the syncretistic world, from other confessions, a real mosaic. It has become a place of encounter.

In Havana we have, furthermore, Vedado Parish and Holy Rosary Parish, and four chapels besides. Activity there consists of preparation for receiving the sacraments, preparation for sacramental ministers for the community. Another Dominican house is located in la Ciudad de Trinidad, 400 kilometers from Havana.

There are seven friars on the island: fr. Juan Manuel Fernández del Valle, senior Cuban of those living there, since he has never been assigned outside of the island; fr. Luís Muñoz; fr. Antonio Bendito; fr. Cirilo; fr. Rafael Provenza; and fr. Pedro Miguel Román.

What does the Order offer the Cuban people?

The Order offers to the Island of Cuba what we are, what we do: we provide an opening for encountering God and others. We offer an ambience for prayer and a space for dialogue for those who wish to exchange opinions, for those who seek reconciliation and peace. Life in Cuba is quite frenetic, there are many problems, and it is acknowledged that the embargo has hurt the people. But we offer a space where all are welcome, are received just as they are, where they exchange opinions and dialogue.

We preach Jesus Christ. When people ask me, Who is Jesus Christ?, I tell them who he is for me, what he did, what he said. What we do, in short, is a service to the Truth. We also have, in Saint John Lateran Priory, a library where thirty or forty people come every day. It is open to the public from 9:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. Saturdays and Sundays we give to preaching and the celebration of the sacraments.

Are you getting Dominican vocations in Cuba?

Thanks to God they are starting to come. We have three youths in Havana who would like to know the Dominicans better. We have three novices in Colombia in the Priory of Santo Domingo de Bogotá, and I believe that the future gives us cause for hope.

When young men come to ask for information we ask them two things of them: sincerity in seeking God and respect for the opinions of those who do not think like them. We require them to come to the maturity of being able to live with others with openness and generosity. For a Dominican the life of study is important, and a real ability in this area is highly recommendable, in the first place so that one may think for himself, and secondly, because study is a prominent mark of Dominican spirituality. It is necessary that these young men know that in this vocation they must give their life in poverty and the following of Jesus.

Do you think the Order has a future in Cuba?

Our future is rooted in a confidence in God. I believe in those who believe, but I also believe in him who seeks without perhaps believing. I believe in him who struggles to make the world more human, more Christian.

A future? Yes, a future in reconciliation.

[Translated from Spanish]puce


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