CAMAGÜEY, Cuba — Accompaniment for seminarians is critical in Cuba, a priest has said, reflecting that Cubans are “a tired people, a people without hope, it's a people that really feels helpless.”

Fr. Alberto Reyes Pías, a priest of the Archdiocese of Camagüey and spiritual director for the archdiocesan seminary, told ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish language new partner, that “The two words Cubans live with are survive or leave.”

“There are a lot a people for whom the Church is the only thing that gives them some hope, gives them some meaning. There are lot of people going through an interior process in the Church, which gives them meaning."

Fr. Pias spoke to ACI Prensa at the Feb. 18-22 Night of Witnesses event organized by the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need in Mexico to draw attention to persecuted Churches.

He emphasized that “there's a feeling of stagnation” in Cuba, but that “there's this feeling that 'I can count on the Church'” among Cubans, which “is something that means a lot to the Cuban people.”

Turning to priestly formation in particular, he said there is a particular need to accompany seminarians, since “often there are really good, nice people, but sometimes guys also come who are very broken.”

He lamented that “the situation of the family in Cuba is quite disastrous. They come to us very broken. I believe the most important thing is 'we're going to live what one day you will have to help others experience.' Then it's to accompany them, to listen to them.”

“One thing I usually say is 'don't hold anything back.' I'm not here to judge you, I'm here to accompany you, but you also have to heal things yourself if you want to be a healer later on. You've got to go through a process.”

“The seminary can't be a tunnel, something you go through to become a priest, because the problem is not becoming a priest, what's at stake here is your happiness, your fulfillment. You've got to go through a process. And processes are painful,” the spiritual director noted.

Fr. Pías explained that “we would like them to have done some previous work, so they don't come to the seminary to discern, although it's true that the seminary is a time of confirming what you have seen. We try to have them have done some previous work, of accompaniment, of working with the priests.”

“We meet with them ahead of time such that we don't admit anyone to the seminary who doesn't have a certain level of discernment. Because there are things it's better to do on the outside, beforehand,” he added.

Fr. Pías explained that “the majority of the seminarians don't come from Christian families. In fact, it Cuba there's a very interesting phenomenon going on. In many places in the world children are brought to the Church by their parents, but not in Cuba. In Cuba a lot of children go to catechism class, adolescents, young people, go on their own, and in fact there are parents who have started coming to church because of their children.”

“Most of our vocations are young people who one day encountered Jesus Christ and are fascinated,” he said.

He also noted that Cuba is marked by emigration.

“I'm in a parish where I've been for 15 years now. Out of that community I was with 15 years ago, I think 95% of them are in the United States. In fact, when I have gone to the United States, to Miami, they tell me, 'Father, come here, because we're all here.'”

“What's beautiful is that very many of these people are still practicing, they've become catechists in the United States, they're leading couples' groups, so the seed has borne fruit. But there's continual emigration,” he said.

The priest also reflected that in Cuba, “we've lived in a system in which the absolute value has been fidelity to the system.”

“In fact there are young people whom I would not say are immoral, I'd have to say they're amoral. They don't know where there's good and where there's evil,” he noted.

For Fr. Pías, “one of the greatest works of the Church, obviously besides evangelization, that you  encounter Jesus Christ, is to discover values, so that whatever happens, you can be a person who can later build something with his life.”

“Something very beautiful is how there are guys who enter the Church broken and you see them continue on the journey and they end up having a Christian family, where values are lived and a different kind of education is given to the children, giving them something that was never given to them. When you see something like that, you say it's all worth it,” he concluded.