Thursday, March 29, 2012

Why are some disappointed by the Pope's visit to Cuba?

The truth is a desire of the human person, the search for which always supposes the exercise of authentic freedom. Many, without a doubt, would prefer to take the easy way out, trying to avoid this task. Some, like Pontius Pilate, ironically question the possibility of even knowing what truth is (cf. Jn 18:38), ... There are too many who, like the Roman governor, wash their hands and let the water of history drain away without taking a stand. - Pope Benedict XVI, March 28 , 2012

Projection of Pope Benedict XVI's image onto the Havana Cathedral in Cuba

Why are some saddened and disappointed by the Pope's visit to Cuba while others are profoundly satisfied by it? There are three main reasons (listed further below) as to why some people were disappointed. However the top issue is that the Pope met with Fidel Castro (who is no longer head of state) but had no time to meet with Catholic dissidents such as the Ladies in White or Oswaldo Paya. Berta Soler, the spokeswoman for the Ladies in White in an interview with the Spanish newspaper ABC explained the reason for her disappointment:
“the Pope forgot to grant all of the oppressed and marginalized in his flock the one minute of contact that we begged for, but, in spite of our great disappointment, we have not lost our faith or our love for Christ.”
Oswaldo Paya of the Christian Liberation Movement who was able to attend the Mass in Havana carrying a banner that said "The truth will set you free" although condemning the repression celebrated the Pope's visit:

"I speak to you at the end of the Mass, despite the harassment and the persecution that we have been subjected to, have been able to arrive to the homily in which there was much vigilance and where many persons that have nothing to do with this were called to attend, but where also the People of God were also there listening to the Word of the Holy Father.

Our first words are for hundreds of our fellow dissidents who were not able to be here because of the wave of fear. There was a great absence in these Masses of precisely those of us who defend human rights. I speak of them and in the name of those who have no voice and have only suffered scorn and repression, and we must remember. They are the ones who defend reconciliation, peace and liberty in Cuba, despite that they are the ones who have been excluded. Terror has excluded them.

But we prayed with the Holy Father, we opened our hearts to hope. As John Paul II said: we have to be the protagonists of our history. Liberation is a task for the Cuban people – now with greater hope because we are definitely on the verge, on the threshold of truth and liberation. That is our hope."

Three main reasons behind disappointment with the visit:

1. Not as an effective communicator as his predecessor
Blessed John Paul II

Pope Benedict XVI, in addition to being a man of God, is a intellectual heavy weight, but compared to Blessed John Paul II doesn't have the same communication skills as his predecessor. I followed all the services that the Pope presided over and listened carefully but still managed to miss or not appreciate the depth of what His Holiness was saying until I went back and read his homilies.

Over the two days he said a number of things that in my opinion went further than what Pope John Paul II had said in 1998 on freedom and struggle, but the delivery was much more difficult to absorb. Hopefully, all that Pope Benedict XVI spoke about Cuba during his trip will be republished in a format that can be read by Cubans on the island. Not only would it be extremely valuable for evangelizing into the Catholic faith but also providing insights for the opposition on the moral/spiritual dimension of nonviolent struggle.

2. Didn't meet with opposition or denounce ongoing repression during his visit

Furthermore, remaining silent about the wave of repression unleashed just prior to his arrival in order to prevent nonviolent dissidents from attending Mass in both Santiago and Havana and not mentioning or commenting on the public spectacle of regime officials detaining an individual for shouting against the dictatorship and calling for freedom prior to the Mass and physically assaulting the protester repeatedly as he was taken away was disappointing. In light of the detention of over 250 dissidents and the blocking of communications during the Pope's visit Amnesty International made the following request:
“In view of this situation, which contradicts his appeal for a ‘more open society’ in Cuba, the Pope should take a stand and lend his voice to those that have been left voiceless due to the ongoing repression and condemn the lack of freedoms in Cuba.”
His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI with regards to Amnesty International's request and the heavy handedness with the few who spoke out prior to the Mass who were taken away didn't say anything explicitly but in the final Homily in Havana offered a biblical teaching on resistance and sacrifice.
In today’s first reading, the three young men persecuted by the Babylonian king preferred to face death by fire rather than betray their conscience and their faith. They experienced the strength to “give thanks, glorify and praise God” in the conviction that the Lord of the universe and of history would not abandon them to death and annihilation. Truly, God never abandons his children, he never forgets them. He is above us and is able to save us by his power. At the same time, he is near to his people, and through his Son Jesus Christ he has wished to make his dwelling place among us in.
However, the regime did respond explicitly to the Pope's subtle calls for reform and openness: government minister Marino Murillo said “In Cuba, there will not be political reform.”

3. Cardinal Ortega's actions clouded Pope's visit before he even arrived

Even before His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI arrived on the island on March 15, Cardinal Jaime Ortega responded to the occupation of a Church in Cuba by 13 dissidents by calling on the political police to enter the Church and forcefully remove the occupiers. This upset many Cuban Catholics, who although not agreeing with the occupation of the Church, were horrified by the use of regime agents to expel and detain the dissidents at the request of the Cardinal. When Church's have been occupied in other countries, Church officials have sought dialogue and mediation to end the occupations internally. In Boston, Massachusetts when occupiers took over a Church the Bishop did not resort to legal recourse until dialogue and discussion would not resolve the situation and several months had passed. At the same time one must take into account that the legal system in Boston and the police function in a democratic society were parishioners have rights not a totalitarian communist dictatorship with a horrible human rights record. All the more reason for Cardinal Ortega to have resolved the matter internally with patience and dialogue but instead, unfortunately, invited in the agents of the dictatorship to resolve the problem for him.

Of lasting importance and cause for both hope and frustration

Pope Benedict XVI's homilies most importantly preached the Holy Gospel and evangelized hundreds of thousands of Cubans. That in and of itself is of primary importance and plants the seeds of spiritual liberation that is anathema to totalitarian regimes. His Holiness also inspired many with his words on the true nature of liberty and truth, and he made a call to nonviolent action.

At the same time many were disappointed because Pope Benedict XVI extensively mentioned relations with the communist regime; met with high ranking officials but made no explicit mention of the democratic opposition over his three day visit to Cuba much less meet with them; and spoke about "progress" by the regime when things on many fronts have gotten worse in the midst of massive crackdown.

In his last Homily in Havana, Cuba on March 28, 2012 His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI spoke many profound truths that are well worth reading, studying and reflecting on. Among these truths is one that bears repeating in this age of compromise and relativism: "Each man and woman has to seek the truth and to choose it when he or she finds it, even at the risk of embracing sacrifices."

Ray Walser, a researcher at the conservative think tank Heritage offered the following conclusion of his analysis on the impact of the Pope's visit to Cuba: "His Holiness did not light a fire of freedom as many hoped; he did not reach out directly to the dissidents, but he stirred an already simmering pot. He offered an alternative vision of a future Cuba as “a home for all,” not as the last bastion of communism."

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