Peter Did Come

Wisdom can sometimes be found in the most unlikely of places.

Those who are familiar with the Miami Herald’s online article comment threads know that it’s home to some of the most asinine, vile, cynical and downright idiotic behavior one will experience in an ordinary day. It’s hard to come up with examples to support this because it’s so prevalent. Pick just about any Herald article or op-ed, especially those involving politics or Cuba, scroll down to the comments and you’ll clearly see what I’m referring to.

Imagine, then, my pleasant surprise when I read this comment from “Mary C” to an article on the pope’s visit to Cuba by UM’s Vanessa Lopez:

Wow, I would never expect the Pope to do all the things that (Vanessa Lopez) wanted him to do.  I would expect him to be Peter, not Jesus.  From my perspective, that is who he was in his trip to Cuba – he brought the Good News and proclaimed it.  Such high expectations that the Pope should be Jesus or God seems to set oneself up always for disappointment.  It is too bad this author fails to appreciate this Pope for the one thing he really does do very well is bring God back into focus, back into the picture if people would listen, hear.  He didn’t have to make the trip at all.  At 84 I wouldn’t.  Every time he does he puts himself at risk. Every time he does he sacrifices.  So,  What does he get out of going – power?  fame!  I doubt it.  He didn’t have to go but what he wanted was for Cubans to hear something. Perhaps some people in the Cuban community did listen, did hear.  Perhaps something significant did happen after all – Peter did come.

I’m guessing Mary C is detached enough from the Cuba issue to be able to make this kind of statement with such clarity. “Such high expectations that the Pope should be Jesus or God seems to set oneself up always for disappointment“. That is exactly what so many of us felt and are still feeling almost two weeks after the pope’s visit. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that only a few days after the successor of Peter returned from Cuba, Christians recalled that Peter, the rock upon which the Church was built, denied Jesus. Not once, not twice, but three times. This even after Jesus told Peter only a few hours earlier that he would deny Him. Despite Jesus’ warning, Peter’s sheer humanity got the best of him in the Lord’s great time of need.

Mary C’s comment made me harken back to Dr. Carlos Eire’s excellent “Let Peter Weep” post right after the pope left Cuba two weeks ago. Peter indeed wept. He wept because he failed, because of his cowardice, because of his broken humanity. The same broken humanity that affects us all, from the pope to the pew-warmers. That Jesus would entrust Peter to build His Church, fully well knowing Peter’s weaknesses and imperfect humanity, speaks volumes for the undeserved graces and love we receive every day. The same applies to Peter’s successors. All of them. I’m just thinking out loud here, but in our weakness and inability to do the right thing all the time, especially when it’s most needed; when we let down the people who love and look up to us…this is precisely the time when God shines in us the most.

It’s only after reading Mary C’s comment that Dr. Eire’s post and the whole Cuba trip starts to make real, full sense. God entrusts us imperfect beings to run things on Earth, not just because we’re made in His image, but because only by failing, falling and picking ourselves and each other up can we truly appreciate what Jesus did on our behalf on that Good Friday almost 2,000 years ago. He picks us to live and proclaim His Word not because we’re going to represent and deliver it flawlessly and immediately touch everyone’s souls, but because only through our shared witness as humans can we truly relate and convert souls in total faith.

There’s no Easter without Good Friday.

Jesus picked a very select few to “see and believe”. Those “lucky ones” had it easy when it came to believing because they saw and experienced first-hand. The rest of us? We just gotta have faith: “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). This faith and assurance that it’s God’s will, not ours, that counts continues to sustain me and gives me hope that the pope’s visit to Cuba had and will continue to have a positive impact.

The more I think of it the more I feel that in the end, we who have to rely on the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen are the true lucky ones.

Comprehensive Analysis of Pope Benedict in Cuba

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.

Praying for Fidel

The Fidel Castro rumor mill is whirling once again – but not with the usual “Castro is dead” stories. The latest rumors involve the ruthless dictator’s desire to be re-converted to Catholicism in the weeks leading up to Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Cuba. Apparently, his daughter Alina has been outspoken about her father’s possible conversion, as this article makes reference to.

So…what should we make of this? Quite frankly, this is one of those topics that really pushes at our views of both reality and our preconceived notions of such. How in the world can we allow a man who has directly caused the unjust suffering of so many people to come back to the faith? Is this just a ruse to grant favor with the Pope? Is he sincere?

The fact is, we really don’t know the answers to any of these questions. Only Castro and God do. However, let’s just pretend for a moment that Castro is indeed sincere; that as his life near’s its end he fears eternal damnation and is seeking repentance. This wouldn’t be the first time someone in a similar situation makes that decision. While that contrition may not be a perfect one, it’s one God accepts from all of us…all the time. We’ll also assume that Castro’s supposed confession (talk about the confession to end all confessions) is as complete as humanly possible and that he sincerely plans to carry out his penance (talk about the penance to end all penances).

With these assumptions and conditions in mind, should we view a Castro con(re)version as something good? My answer to that question is YES.  It is a stretch, at least in our human minds, to envision Castro doing all this. But fortunately for ALL of us, God has much more patience and trust than us mere mortals. This is certainly not to say that once Castro kneels down, confesses his sins, receives absolution and his penance, all the bad he’s caused can be brushed aside and forgotten. It’s not having faith in Castro or any sinner, but faith in the grace of God transmitted through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

What this DOES NOT represent is an appeasement, compromise or excuse for Castro’s actions. Unfortunately, that’s the way we too often see the act of forgiving as. The Catholic Church calls it reconciliation for a reason: to be reconciled with God through the accepting and admission of one’s sins, receiving of grace and the penance received and accomplished.

Jesus caused scandal by eating and hanging out with sinners of all types. He converted a ruthless murderer, Saul, to the great apostle St. Paul. Countless others have followed similar trajectories. He gives all of us countless chances to repent our sins. So, why NOT Castro? Again, I’m not holding my breath but only God has the capacity to deliver what we can’t even begin to hope for.

I think we can apply a similar principle to the Pope’s upcoming visit to Cuba. Looking at faith, hope and reconciliation through the lens of the Church, the Pope’s visit to Cuba represents that endless reservoir of hope that so often escapes human understanding. The goal of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit should be to inspire that hope in all Cubans, which is why I see the Pontiff’s visit to Cuba as a good thing. Even better and most definitely ideal would be a meeting with dissidents and opposition members, many of whom are faithful Catholics and have endured much hardship in the open practice of their faith. I can only pray that such a meeting will materialize.

All of us who care for a free Cuba and for the freedom of a much-maligned people should pray for the Pope and the Church hierarchy in Cuba that the visit to Cuba in March bear much fruit. We should also pray for the Cuban people.

And…yes…we should pray for Fidel Castro, as utterly impossible as it may seem. After all, the Cuban people would be better served by a converted Castro than by the old one. So would the bearded dictator.

Nuestra Señora de la Caridad del Cobre

Today, Catholic Cubans all over the world celebrate the feast day of Our Lady of Charity (Caridad del Cobre). Today is also the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Here’s a prayer I found at the web site linked above which all Cubans and non-Cubans alike should pray, especially for the people of Cuba and the Church in Cuba:

Most Holy Mother of Charity
who came to us as a messenger of peace across the sea.
You are the Mother of all Cubans
To you we come, Most Holy Mother of God
to honor you with love as your children.
To your motherly heart
we entrust our desires and hopes
our work and our prayers.
We pray for our torn country
that we may be able to build
a nation based on peace and unity.
We pray for our families
that they may live in fidelity and love.

We pray for our children
that they may grow strong
in spirit and in body.

We pray for our young people
that their faith may increase,
as well as their attachment to
the truth.

We pray for the sick, the homeless,
the lonely, the exiled,
and for all suffering souls.
We pray for the Catholic Church in Cuba,
for its mission,
for its priests, deacons,
religious and laity.

We pray for the victory
of justice and love
in our country.

Mother of Charity!
We place ourselves
under your mantle of protection!
Blessed are you among women
and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus!
And to Him be the glory and the power
now and forever. Amen.

U.S. and Cuba Back to the “Negotiating Table”

As the Alan Gross saga continues, U.S. and Cuba officials are schedule to meet again next week to work out the fate of Mr. Gross.  The linked story treats this as a part of a larger migration issue, which largely missed the point, IMO. While Cuba would no doubt push for the U.S. to lift ALL restrictions on travel (and trade, for that matter), they would “settle” for what I believe is their true intent regarding Mr. Gross: an “exchange of prisoners”. In other words: Mr. Gross for the “Cuban Five“.

I’m no fan of the Obama administration, but I have to give it props for not caving in to Cuba’s dirty demands of releasing the five Cuban spies captured and convicted in U.S. courts. How long will this last, I don’t know. I only hope that the Obama administration not only hold firm, but tighten their fists a little more. If another country were to hold an American captive, without any real motive and without any formal trial, the world would rightly be outraged at the utter lack of regard for human dignity and basic rights. But, alas, this is Cuba we’re talking about; the Cuba that garners so much sympathy around the world because it “suffers under the boot of American injustice and imperialism”.

Let’s see what happens. For Alan Gross and his family, I hope his release is imminent. For all that’s good and just, I hope the negotiations don’t become a total abandonment of principles.

Now They Tell Us…

Oswaldo Paya made some interesting comments in a New Year’s Day message, not the least of which is the following nugget:

“The (Cuban) government justifies the layoffs of thousands of workers claiming they are not suitable for the job.  And our leaders? Have they been suitable? Now they say they did not know how to make socialism work, and yet for half a century they made decisions in the name of the people.”

Archbishop Thomas Wenski Battles the Dragons of Hatred

One of my regular routines upon leaving Mass every Sunday is to pick up the latest church bulletin and a copy of The Florida Catholic. If you’re going to be a practicing Catholic, it’s a duty to know and get involved in the Church and its myriad of activities. It’s also a duty to be informed of the views of local Church leaders, from the parish pastor to the  Bishop.

In the Miami version of The Florida Catholic, Archbishop Thomas Wenski published a translation of his homily at La Ermita de la Caridad (Shrine of Our Lady of Charity) in Coconut Grove during the much-publicized and controversial visit by several Cuban priests and bishops. Before I get to the main point of this post, a little background: Archbishop Wenski and others from the Archdiocese of Miami have been criticized by some for visiting Cuba to commemorate the opening of the first Seminary in Cuba in 50 years (the first leg of the Cuba-U.S. exchange which was immediately followed by the visit to Miami mentioned above).

Personally, I don’t have an issue with Wenski’s visit to Cuba, nor the visit by Cuban Church representatives here. Wenski clearly points out the true purpose of the visit:

The construction of this new seminary is a sign of the hope that Cuba needs so much. The seminary has played this role not only throughout the ecclesiastical history of Cuba, but also throughout its civic history — because within its classrooms were forged the national and religious identity of Cubans. And it will do so in the future as well.

I have been critical of the Cuban Catholic Church for their lack of action – and courage – in dealing with the utter oppression of basic human rights in Cuba. I have also been critical of Archbishop Wenski’s outspoken opposition to the U.S. “embargo” on Cuba. For the former, my objections are deeper and more troubling. For the latter, it’s simply a disagreement with a man whom I believe has the right things and people at heart. How do I know this? Well, Wenski’s never been known to be a quiet wallflower, as his recent encounters with raul and the regime in Cuba demonstrated.

This quote from his homily, however, says tons more than a brief encounter with Raul or a stated opposition to a misrepresented foreign policy ever will:

How often in the history of the world has the dragon of the Apocalypse (cf. Revelation 12:1-18) in its various incarnations attempted to swallow up the Bride of Christ? Yet it is the dragon that is ultimately vanquished — for love always proves more powerful than hatred. As Pope Benedict XVI said: “In all ages, the Church, the People of God, also lives by the light of God and as the Gospel says is nourished by God. … Thus in all the trials, in the various situations of the Church through the ages, in different parts of the world, she wins through suffering. And she is the presence, the guarantee of God’s love against all the ideologies of hatred and selfishness” (Aug. 15, 2007).

Let’s hope the “dragon” 90 miles south of Key West is vanquished, pronto!

Alan Gross and La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre

Two Cuba-related items of note, courtesy of the Miami Herald:

- Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, in Cuba leading a trade mission, is reportedly seeking the release of American prisoner Alan Gross. Here’s hoping Richardson can redeem the purpose of his trip by arranging Gross’ release, but here’s fearing that he may cave in to a request by the castros to release one or more of the Cuban 5.

- Cuba is celebrating the 400th anniversary of Our Lady of Charity’s (Virgin de la Caridad del Cobre) appearance with a series of celebrations, spurring a renewed sense of hope among the lay people in Cuba. I admire the optimism of devoted people like Dagoberto Valdes:

(The celebrations) will fortify the hopes for the changes toward freedom and democracy that we all want, and the union of the two parts of the Cuban nation — those in the island and those in the diaspora

Unfortunately, the Church leaders in Cuba react with their usual vague lack of conviction for people like Valdes and the rest of their flock:

It’s the same Church message as always, so that our people know the truth of the gospel,” (Santiago Archbishop Dionisio) García told El Nuevo Herald. “Our religious culture has suffered much, and the church works toward a Cuba that is always improving.”

Not bad, until the last part about Cuba “always improving”. Doesn’t inspire much hope in the hierarchy’s efforts to effect real change. Too bad, because they are the few groups in Cuba that could inspire hearts and minds if they had the courage to do so.

Open Letter From Cuba to Pope Benedict XVI

A couple of highlights from an open letter recently written by 165 Cuban political activists, surely mostly Catholic, to Pope Benedict XVI and delivered to the Papal Nuncio’s office in Havana, courtesy of Cuban Colada:

We are not in accord with the stance taken by the Cuban ecclesiastical hierarchy in its intervention over the political prisoners. It is lamentable and, in fact, embarrassing

A correct mediation of the issue would have implied listening to the grievances of both parties and conciliating them…
“However, the solution of exile, accepted by those who have been unjustly imprisoned for seven years only for their ideas, benefits only the dictatorship.

The letter concludes with the group’s primary demand to the Cuban Catholic Church:

The end of the political support from those who represent GOD before Cuban Catholics towards those who for over half a century have acted as Satan’s commissioners on Earth (emphasis mine).

Wow. It’s no surprise, then, of this swift response from the tragically spineless Cuban Catholic Church hierarchy, who seems to be more interested in PR than in following the true example of Jesus Christ and His followers:

When the Church accepted the mission to mediate between the relatives of the prisoners or the Ladies in White and the Cuban authorities, it knew that such a mediation might be interpreted in the most dissimilar manners and might provoke diverse reactions, from insult and slander to acceptance and gratefulness.

However, to remain inactive was not a valid option for the Church, because of its pastoral mission.  The Church’s action “has not relied, nor will it ever rely, on political tendencies, neither the government’s nor [the tendencies] of those who oppose it, but on its pastoral mission.

Once again, the true leaders of the 2,000-year-old Christian Catholic Church are not in the ones in lofty positions, but the lay people that have always been the true cornerstone and meaning of the Faith. There’s no better example of this than what we’re seeing in Cuba. God Bless them.
My full translation of the opposition’s letter to the Pope follows below the fold.

Catholic Bishops and Cuba

As I indicated in a post back in February, perhaps my biggest disappointment with the Catholic Church, a Church I have grown more and more faithful in, is the stance espoused by many bishops and even cardinals on the issue of U.S./Cuba relations.

Alberto at Babalu laid it out very nicely in his blasting of Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega, and succinctly explains the mentality of many Catholic bishops when it comes to the U.S. being the bad guys. While Cardinal Ortega condemns the acts of repudiation against the Ladies in White, he was quoted as stating the following in a recent CNS article:

“We have seen with surprise that (acts of repudiation against Ladies in White) have resumed here and also among Cubans in southern Florida, against other Cubans who think differently or artists from Cuba,” he said. “This type of verbal and physical intolerance must not go down in our history as a characteristic trait of Cubans.”

Defending the indefensible usually involves invoking a false equivalency. That’s exactly what Cardinal Ortega does in comparing “intolerance” shown by Cuban exiles in Miami to supporters of a murderous regime to the Cuban government institutionally harassing and attacking peaceful demonstrators. It’s hard to believe that a man of the stature of Cardinal Ortega would make such a comparison, but there you have it.

This brings me to my introduction of Bishop Thomas Wenski as Archbishop of Miami. The current Bishop of Orlando returns to his hometown where he served as Auxiliary Bishop from 1997 to 2003. Bishop Wenski is a good man and I believe he will represent the Catholic Church in South Florida well as Archbishop.  That doesn’t mean I like his outspoken stance against the U.S. embargo. I wouldn’t put Bishop Wenski on the same plane as Cardinal Ortega, but it’s disheartening to not hear him speak out in his customarily blunt fashion about the abuses of the castro regime. He’s not an apologist for the regime, as this article from 1998 illustrates, but he appears to espouse the usual nice-guy approach that hasn’t and will never work with the castro regime.

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