Via Alberto at Babalú Blog is an excellent article by George Weigel at National Review Online reviewing Pope Benedict’s visit to Cuba and its potential impact on the future of Cuba, from both the civil and church perspectives. Weigel comprehensively and thoughtfully brings up plenty of balanced, valid points. The article is too long and there’s too much good stuff contained within to list all the points made, but here a small example:
Asked at the end of the visit why the pope had not met with the Ladies in White and other civil-society dissidents, the Holy See’s sometimes-hapless press spokesman, Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J., made matters worse by replying that the Vatican, in planning such a visit, had to take account of the wishes of the public authorities about the pope’s program.
That, however, was not John Paul II’s view of the matter. Prior to the second papal visit to Poland, which took place in 1983 during martial law, the regime insisted that the pope could not meet with Lech Wałesa, the imprisoned Solidarity leader; the pope insisted on the meeting and threatened to leave early if the meeting were not arranged; and the meeting took place. And if it be countered that, well, Benedict XVI is not a Cuban returning to his own country, then it should be remembered that John Paul II did precisely the same thing in Chile in 1987, when, much to the aggravation of the Pinochet regime, he had a lengthy meeting (arranged by local Catholic authorities) with the Chilean democratic opposition.
On the last day of Benedict XVI’s Cuban visit, when there was still hope that a previously unannounced papal meeting with civil-society representatives might be held, Vatican sources suggested that efforts had been made to arrange such an encounter, but that those efforts had been systematically thwarted by the regime. Assuming that was indeed the case, the claim nonetheless raises more questions than it answers.
Cuba is not North Korea. It may still be a gigantic prison, but it is not the country it was 30 years ago. If representatives of the National Endowment for Democracy could recently arrange to bring into Cuba an award for the founders of the Ladies in White and could bestow that award at a meeting with civil-society and pro-democracy activists, there is no reason why a competent Vatican nunciature in Havana, working with competent papal trip planners, couldn’t have figured out a way for the pope to meet representatives of Cuban civil society. At the very least, the Vatican could have extracted a high price from the regime (including international media exposure) for blocking such a meeting.
The entire article, albeit long, is well worth a read.