Vatican Insights Post-Cuba

Carlos Alberto Montaner in today’s Miami Herald compiled a series of observations on Cuba via sources close to the pope and his Vatican entourage. For them most part, these aren’t earth-shattering revelations but at least it confirms that, after all, the pope and the Vatican had their eyes and ears open while in Cuba.

Not surprising but a detail regarding the protester in Santiago and the pope’s reaction:

• First. Benedict XVI was struck by the huge contrast between the Mexican welcome — joyous, free, multitudinous and spontaneous — in a city that was alive and economically vibrant, and the tense Cuban ceremonies, evidently controlled by the political police, held in a country impoverished to the point of misery, and preceded by hundreds of detentions.

The horrific spectacle of a young man savagely beaten by a policeman disguised as a Red Cross stretcher-bearer touched the pope’s heart and caused him to take a personal interest in the man’s fate. After all, the poor man had only shouted “Down with communism,” the common man’s echo of what the pontiff himself had said when he left Italy, when he declared that Marxism was a failed ideology that needed to be buried.

Even less surprising:

• Second. The pope and his retinue found it lamentable that Raúl Castro chose to deliver in Santiago de Cuba a classic Stalinist Cold-War speech intended to justify the dictatorship. They had expected a message of change and hope, not a reiteration of the regime’s main arguments.

That text, along with the speeches made by Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez and the vice president in charge of economics, Marino Alberto Murillo, convinced them that Raúl Castro is much more interested in remaining anchored in the past than in preparing a better future for the Cubans.

Somewhat surprising lack of confidence coming from a close confidant of Blessed John Paul II, but rooted in reality:

• Third. They ascertained — painfully — that the plea made by the Pope John Paul II during his visit 14 years ago, to the effect that the Cubans lose their fear, had been for naught. Except for a few hundred opposition democrats who are permanently harassed and beaten, sometimes jailed, Cuba’s is a society rotted by fear.

But the manifestation of fear that intrigued them the most was not that of the oppositionists but that of the apparent supporters. They heard their double-talk up close and were terrified.

In private, the functionaries appeared open, tolerant and desirous of deep reforms that would include the political arena. One of them even admitted that a multiparty system and free elections were essential for society to truly advance toward modernity — even if the communists lost power.

But as soon as someone else joined the conversation or the journalists appeared, the officials reprised the most inflexible and Stalinist orthodox discourse, parroting the official script without leaving out a single comma. It was a painful spectacle.

Not surprising in the least but glad the Vatican confirmed it first-hand:

• Fourth. The pope and his retinue confirmed what they already suspected: the Cuban Church is split into two very clear sides: that of Cardinal Jaime Ortega, compliant to the collaborationist extreme of asking the police to empty a temple occupied by parishioners who wanted to protest against the dictatorship, knowing full well that they would be arrested and surely mistreated, and the side of bishops like Dionisio García Ibáñez, who was an engineer before being ordained as a priest and is much firmer in his rejection of the Cuban regime.

While Cardinal Ortega expresses compassion for some victims of the government (evidently not all), Dionisio (even while remaining friendly with the cardinal) and other priests, like the famous Rev. José Conrado Rodríguez, a priest in Santiago de Cuba, are convinced that there will be no relief or reconciliation among Cubans until the regime is peacefully replaced by a true democracy that takes into account the opinions of all of society, not just those of a handful of ultra-communists who are entangled in the cobwebs of the past.

Also not surprising and agree with Montaner’s last comment:

• Fifth. The Pope ascertained that his contemporary Fidel Castro — they’re the same age — is in worse physical and mental conditions than himself. The pontiff found an elderly man who is physically incapacitated, mentally erratic and seriously unable to communicate. Fidel is finished.

The pope, who is a good man, prayed for him. It’s the Christian thing to do.

Not The Messiah We Expected

My friend Carlos Espinosa of Living the Faith on a High Wire reflects on the pope’s visit to Cuba from a slightly different angle.

When Jesus first appeared on the scene in the early part of the First Century, many Jews were waiting for a Messiah that would liberate them from the control of the Roman Empire and restore the Davidic kingdom; through what they envisioned would be armed conflict.

Instead, what they got was not the savior they expected, but a poor and humble carpenter from Galilee, who preached a freedom, not from the binds that tied them to this world, but from the sin, hate and rancor that bound their souls from the next. It was an internal and transcendent freedom centered on love.

As if that weren’t unsettling enough to some, He told them to turn the other cheek, to love their enemies, to pray for those that persecuted them and told slaves to obey their masters.

This week, Pope Benedict XVI concluded a three-day pilgrimage to Cuba, where he traveled for the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the image of Our Lady of Charity (La Virgen de la Caridad) to three fishermen in the Bay of Nipe in 1612.

While most in the Catholic world embraced the trip as an opportunity to bring the gospel to one of the last bastions of communism in the world, some in the Cuban exile community criticized it because they believed it gave legitimacy to the longstanding abusive regime and served as another public relations coup for the dictatorship.

After the historic Mass last Wednesday, as another co-worker pointed out to me, under the same obelisk in La Plaza de la Revolucion, where for decades Fidel Castro spewed hate, division and scorn, Pope Benedict talked about truth, love and hope.  He said, “Cuba and the world need change, but this will occur only if each one is in a position to seek the truth and chooses the way of love, sowing reconciliation and fraternity.”

Yes, the Cuban government may have used the visit for politics and, at every opportunity, used the international press to spew its rhetoric, while rounding up and arresting over 200 dissidents during the three-day period and preventing others from attending the papal masses, but this trip was not about the Cuban government.  It was about the Cuban people, the oppressed and the not so oppressed, and the freedom and hope that is ignited, fanned and burns from within their spirits.

As another young Cuban girl stated so eloquently, “We need to ask for unity. We need to ask for change but the kind of change that starts from within each of us.”…

The whole post is recommended reading.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.