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Cuban bishop says defector WYD pilgrims were seduced

A Cuban bishop said yesterday that young Cubans were pressured or encouraged to stay behind in Canada after World Youth Day ended in Toronto last week.

Of the 200 people who travelled to Canada with the Cuban church, 23 stayed behind, according to Bishop Carlos Baladron, president of the youth commission of Cuba's Conference of Catholic Bishops.

"Never before has a church delegation been wrapped up in something similar," said Fr Baladron, the bishop from Cuba's eastern province of Guantanamo who headed the delegation to Canada.

"From our first days in Canada, there were notable pressures by some people living there ... exhorting the Cubans not to return to their country," Fr Baladron said in a written statement sent to international news organisations.

He did not elaborate on who he believed was exerting the pressure.

The defectors, who are described as professionals in their 20s, escaped the watch of Cuban security police on World Youth Day last month, as the Pope celebrated mass for the pilgrims. Some of the Cubans are staying in the homes of families who have agreed to take them in.

At least one of the Cubans who remain in Canada, however, has said that he decided not to return to Cuba well before arriving in Toronto.

Fr Baladron said news coverage of the Cubans' desertion "indicates that a religious event such as this ... can be taken advantage of by those with determined politic interests."

Globe and Mail

8 Aug 2002