ROSARIO, Argentina— Catholic bishops in Cuba are asking for a “healthy plurality, dialogue and negotiation” between those who have differing opinions.

Writing in their Christmas message, they also advocated for changes “for common good and peace” and some “good news” for the people.

“Good news for Cubans would be that intolerance gives way to a healthy plurality, dialogue and negotiation between those who have different opinions,” reads the message published on the website of the Cuban Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The statement was released over the weekend, as the island nation goes through what observers have labeled one of its worst economic crises in the past 20 years. It also comes soon after the government began a defamation campaign against human rights activists associated with the international organization Article 19, named for the part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights dealing with freedom of expression and opinion.

Over the past month, at least 240 acts of aggression against activists and independent journalists have been recorded. The government has also arbitrarily detained many protesters, while defaming others through the state-owned newspaper, Granma.

The bishops said that they now see “a people tired and burdened” by material shortcomings and “spiritual fatigue.”

The prelates note that these hardships “are weighing on the soul of the vast majority of Cubans.”

They also warn that the existing economic crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the consequences of natural disasters are “provoking fears and uncertainties in the population.”

Though the Catholic Church and the Cuban communist regime have mostly been at odds in the past seven decades, in 2010 the bishops began an unprecedented dialogue with the administration of then President Raúl Castro to mediate the release political prisoners that had been held since 2003. The dialogue process concluded in 2011, with over 160 people released.

Though statistics are hard to verify, it’s estimated that 60 percent of the Cuba’s 11 million people were baptized as Catholics. However, only 2 percent of the population attend Sunday Mass after decades of persecution. In recent years, Evangelical churches have also been growing rapidly.

In their Christmas message, the bishops asked the government to pay special attention to those most in need: The elderly, the unemployed, single mothers, the infirm, those imprisoned and those who live alone.

“A country grows when among its different groups division is not supported, but social friendship,” says the statement. They also ask for “intolerance to give way to a healthy plurality.”

The bishops called on Cubans to avoid “violence, confrontation, insult and disqualifications to create an environment of social friendship and universal fraternity.”

Referring to the economic plan announced by the government, they call for it to allow each inhabitant to “support their family with a dignified job, with a salary that is enough and with the always necessary social justice.”

The bishops also wrote that it would be “good news” if Cubans did not to have to emigrate to find abroad what they should find in their own country, adding that “we don’t need to wait to receive as a gift what we must and can build for ourselves from the bottom up.”

They close their message urging for all sanctions to end, both those imposed by the United States and those by the Cuban government, and call for the “creative initiative” to be given a chance, allowing “production forces to be freed and for laws that favor the initiative of each Cuban.”

In this way, they argue, each Cuban “will feel and will be able to become the protagonist of their life project, and in this way, the Nation will advance towards an integral human development.”

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma