Carlos Lozada Interviews Alberto Cutié on Cuba, Faith and Castro

Sunday, April 26, 2009

They call him Padre Oprah. And Alberto Cutié -- a telegenic 39-year-old Cuban American priest, advice columnist, radio and television personality, best-selling author and pastor of St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Miami's trendy South Beach -- certainly fits the bill. Hispanic Magazine has hailed Cutié as one of the most influential Latinos in the United States, and celebrity friends such as Shakira, Andy Garcia and Gloria Estefan don't hurt his image, either. But beyond the hype, this son of Cuban exiles touches the lives of millions of listeners, readers and viewers, many of whom, like him, grew up on stories of how the Castro regime would end. Cutié spoke last week with Outlook's Carlos Lozada about whether Obama should drop the embargo, whether Fidel will go to heaven or hell, and how to find God in South Beach. Excerpts:

If you could preach to Fidel and Raul Castro, what gospel reading would you choose?

One of my favorite readings is when Jesus says that, at the end of time, God will separate the sheep from the goats. It's a judgment gospel. They ask Jesus, when did we see you naked and clothe you, when did we see you hungry and feed you, when did we see you in prison and visit you? And Jesus says, when you did it for the least of these you did it for me. It's Matthew 25: 31-46. The Castro brothers need to ask themselves: What did they do with the hunger of the Cuban people? What did they do with the imprisoned? What did they do with the sick? That's the gospel I would share with them.

Your parents fled Cuba because of the Castro regime. As a kid, what did you hear about Fidel around the dinner table?

That's all we talked about. My father was a political prisoner twice. I remember since the age of reason -- six, seven, eight years old -- that every conversation between my father and his brothers was always about how is the regime going to end and when are we going back.

In the last decade or so the conversation has changed. My father has died, and my uncles would say that we're resigned to the idea we're going to die ourselves here. It isn't the same longing that there was in the past.

Do young Cuban Americans care as much?

The young people in the community want to go to Cuba to have fun, or they want to invest. They want to smoke cigars, wear the guayabera, drink the rum, and look at the beautiful sights of what's left. I think young people are nostalgic for their parents. I think that they feel that, whatever my parents didn't get to do in Cuba, I'd like to go back and do it.

Do you identify with Cuba?

I was conceived in Spain, born in Puerto Rico, raised in Miami, but I consider myself Cuban American because my roots are so strong. My parents left Cuba thinking we would one day go back. My oldest sister was born in Cuba, I was born in San Juan and my baby sister in Miami -- that gives you a rundown of the exile. We are political exiles.

What do you think of President Obama's move to loosen travel restrictions to Cuba?

As a Cuban American who lives in Miami, I believe that if you are an exile, you only travel to Cuba if there is an extreme need, like a mother is dying or a relative is dying. If you're an exile, you're not supposed to come in and out of the country you're exiled from. It's a contradiction. As a priest, from the point of view of the church, the freedom to go to Cuba is a human rights issue. We don't have those restrictions with China -- why have them with Cuba?

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