Pope To Visit Cuba To Endorse Church's Growing Role | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

Pope To Visit Cuba To Endorse Church's Growing Role

Play associated audio

When Pope Benedict XVI goes to Latin America in March, Mexico is an obvious choice, with nearly 100 million Catholics.

But communist-run Cuba is also on his itinerary. The 84-year-old pontiff does not travel often, and this leg of his trip will be a strong show of support for Cuba's church leaders and their growing role in pushing President Raul Castro's government for change.

More than anywhere else in Cuba, the Santa Rita church in Havana's Miramar district is the place where religion and politics intersect.

Every Sunday after Mass, a few dozen activists known as the Ladies in White march along the street outside in the only act of public protest tolerated by the Castro government.

The origins of Pope Benedict's upcoming trip to Cuba can partly be traced back to events at the church in the spring of 2010. At that time, government-organized mobs attacked the women outside the church as foreign television cameras rolled.

Cuba's church leaders intervened, and in the dialogue with Raul Castro that followed, more than 100 jailed dissidents were freed. They included all of the Cuban inmates considered prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International. The women's weekly protests continue today with the church's protection.

Under Raul Castro, Cuba's Catholic Church has recovered a degree of prominence it hasn't had in 50 years. Castro said the island will welcome the pope with affection and respect, announcing he would pardon nearly 3,000 more prisoners in advance of the papal visit.

"This is a demonstration of the strength and generosity of the Cuban Revolution," Castro said in a Dec. 23 speech to Cuba's parliament.

Following In Pope John Paul's Footsteps

The stated purpose of Benedict's trip is the 400-year anniversary of Cuba's patron saint, La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, but the visit will also give the Vatican's blessing to this emerging church-state relationship.

"The church has always expressed its support to the changes that are taking place in the country," said Orlando Marquez, the spokesman for the Havana Archdiocese. "And the church is saying that those changes are good, those are changes people want, those are changes that must continue. And the Holy See knows that."

Pope Benedict's visit comes 14 years after his predecessor John Paul II's historic trip to Havana, when he met Fidel Castro and urged Cuba to open to the world, and for the world to open to Cuba.

Today the island's diplomatic ties to much of the world are stronger, and Cuba receives record numbers of tourists and Cuban-American visitors. But relations with the U.S. remain stuck, and the 50-year-old trade embargo is still firmly in place.

Roberto Veiga, the editor of Lay Space, a church-published journal that has become a leading forum for political and economic debate, says Cuba will continue opening up more, but on its own terms.

"The world can guide Cuba and help Cuba along in its transformation, but those who will decide and influence the process directly are Cubans," Veiga says. "That includes Cubans on the island and those abroad, but it will be for Cubans to determine."

That has also been the church's message as it encourages reconciliation among Cubans and Cuban exiles. With the pope planning to celebrate Mass in the public plazas of Havana and Santiago de Cuba, thousands of Cuban-Americans and other U.S. residents may travel to the island to be there.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

No Small Feat: The NBA's Shortest Player Never Gave Up

At 5 foot 3, Muggsy Bogues holds the record as shortest player in NBA history. Criticism of his height started on the basketball courts of the Baltimore projects, and continued well into his career.
NPR

Tracing A Gin-Soaked Trail In London

Around the world, new gin distilleries are popping up like mushrooms after a rain. NPR traces the boom to its historic roots in London, which once had 250 distilleries within the city limits alone.
NPR

Ranting And Throwing Papers: An Angry Candidate Runs For Congress

State Rep. Mike Bost's rants on the Illinois House floor are the stuff viral dreams are made of. Bost says he has good reason to be upset, and wants voters to share his anger.
NPR

Israel's Solar-Powered 'Trees': For Smartphones And Community

The man-made trees are designed to create a public space where people can gather and re-charge a battery — their own and their smartphone's.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.