The Holy Saturday Raid

The picture of a gun-toting immigration officer confronting 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez on Holy Saturday morning says a lot about the disregard today's society has for the Catholic faith. The officer, in full riot gear, his trigger finger extended, was part of a team that stormed the Miami home of Elian's caretakers to retrieve the Cuban boy.

In the past, the Clinton administration has been careful to avoid violent acts on religious holy days. On Dec. 17, 1998, President Clinton ordered an attack on Iraqi sites, saying he timed the bombing to come before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Why wasn't the same consideration shown Catholics during the Easter triduum?

The Catholic faith of Elian and his supporters became a central focal point of the boy's saga soon after his mother and stepfather drowned in an attempt to escape Cuba with him in November.

While adrift at sea, said the boy, he continually prayed to his guardian angel to rescue him. Catholic fishermen eventually found him and brought him to the Little Havana section of Miami.

As soon as Elian was rescued, dictator Fidel Castro demanded the boy be returned to Cuba, to the custody of his biological father. The Cuban government then used the case to begin a new anti-Catholic campaign, reported the Vatican missionary news agency, Fides.

For example, Cuba's state TV ran a commercial targeting U.S. Dominican Sister Jeanne O'Laughlin, the nun who hosted a January meeting between Elian and his grandmothers in Miami Beach. She became convinced that the boy should stay with his relatives in Florida. Cuban television depicted a photograph of her face being transformed into a demon, Fides said.

Protests in Miami were kept peaceful in large part due to the efforts of Catholics who worked to channel the frustrations of the Cuban exile community into peaceful activities, reported the Catholic News Service. Protests over the boy's predicament featured Cuban-Americans, praying, holding rosaries and placards with Catholic images.

Catholics made high-profile pleas for Elian to be returned to his father, as well. Cardinal Bernard Law wrote in the Boston Globe that “For me, it is … the simplicity of the case which is so overwhelming. … Absent clear evidence of the father's unsuitability as a parent, Elian belongs with his father.”

The Vatican went so far as to offer its embassy in Washington as a place to transfer custody of Elian from his Miami relatives to his Cuban father.

This kind of Church support probably meant it was only a matter of time before the boy's transfer would be made peaceably.

But to take the child the way federal agents did and when they did showed a chilling disregard for the Catholic faith on the part of the immigration service — and the Clinton administration that ordered the raid.