Sunday, September 20, 2015

Pope Francis in Cuba Day 2 the halfway point: A Call to Service in the Midst of a Crackdown

"Service is never ideological, for we do not serve ideas, we serve people" - Pope Francis, Homily in Havana, September 20, 2015

Pope Francis officiates Mass in Havana, Cuba today
Tonight the Associated Press reported that the Vatican spokesman confirmed that some dissidents were called and invited to events where they would receive a greeting from Pope Francis. "Monsignor Federico Lombardi says no formal meeting was planned. Lombardi says the dissidents never showed up but he cannot confirm that it was because they were arrested." Over twitter Marta Beatriz Roque and Miriam Leiva both informed through their respective accounts that they had been invited and the circumstances surrounding their arrests by Cuban state security. This is the second time that dissidents have been invited to an event to meet the Pope and been detained.

The regime's resistance to change was on display yesterday when opposition activists that His Holiness wanted to meet with privately were arrested outside their homes while trying to reach the Apostolic Nunciature. Today scores of activists were rounded up to prevent them from attending the Holy Mass with Pope Francis at 10:30am. Nevertheless four opposition activists were caught on film, with one of them able to reach Pope Francis and receive a blessing before the three were taken away by state security agents. Univision managed to catch the whole affair on film and it is embedded below and is a visual testament to the totalitarian nature of the regime.

Meanwhile although His Holiness has not addressed the repression committed against dissidents on the island, Pope Francis has continued his pastoral mission. The excerpt of the Homily given by Pope Francis at the Holy Mass in Havana at the Plaza of the Revolution today, Sunday, September 20,  2015 focused on the nature of service and is a powerful reflection that merits being studied and prayed upon:
The call to serve involves something special, to which we must be attentive.  Serving others chiefly means caring for their vulnerability.  Caring for the vulnerable of our families, our society, our people.  Theirs are the suffering, fragile and downcast faces which Jesus tells us specifically to look at and which he asks us to love.  With a love which takes shape in our actions and decisions.  With a love which finds expression in whatever tasks we, as citizens, are called to perform.  People of flesh and blood, people with individual lives and stories, and with all their frailty: these are those whom Jesus asks us to protect, to care for, to serve.  Being a Christian entails promoting the dignity of our brothers and sisters, fighting for it, living for it.  That is why Christians are constantly called to set aside their own wishes and desires, their pursuit of power, and to look instead to those who are most vulnerable.

There is a kind of “service” which truly “serves”, yet we need to be careful not to be tempted by another kind of service, a “service” which is “self-serving”.  There is a way to go about serving which is interested in only helping “my people”, “our people”.  This service always leaves “your people” outside, and gives rise to a process of exclusion.

All of us are called by virtue of our Christian vocation to that service which truly serves, and to help one another not to be tempted by a “service” which is really “self-serving”.  All of us are asked, indeed urged, by Jesus to care for one another out of love.  Without looking to one side or the other to see what our neighbor is doing or not doing.  Jesus tells us: Whoever would be first among you must be the last, and the servant of all”.  He does not say: if your neighbor wants to be first, let him be the servant!  We have to be careful to avoid judgmental looks and renew our belief in the transforming look to which Jesus invites us.

This caring for others out of love is not about being servile.  Rather, it means putting our brothers and sisters at the center.  Service always looks to their faces, touches their flesh, senses their closeness and even, in some cases, “suffers” in trying to help.  Service is never ideological, for we do not serve ideas, we serve people.
Jonathan Watts, of The Guardian, spoke with Angel Moya who described how at least 31 activists had been detained from attending the Mass this morning, but that was not the complete number and he was still obtaining further information. Here is an excerpt of Mr. Watts's report:
I just spoke to Angel Moya, a prominent activist who said at least 31 people were detained this morning to prevent them from attending the pope’s mass. “They are the ones we know of, but we are still counting,” he said. Moya was among them. After being held in a police station from 5am to 11:30, he said he was picked up along with his wife, Berta Soler – the leader of the Damas do Blanco (Ladies in White) group that campaigns for prisoner releases. With more than 20 other activists from the group who were gathered ahead of their planned journey to Revolution Square, when the police moved in with what he described as a “repressive, aggressive operation that was specifically targeted to prevent us from attending the public mass.”
The world has been opening to Cuba and Cuba would like to open to the world, but a dynastic totalitarian dictatorship is unwilling to do anything that would endanger the continuation of its 56 years in power. The image of the Maoist mass murderer Ernesto "Che" Guevara casts a shadow not only over the Plaza of the Revolution in Cuba but the world in general, and it is a legacy of bloodshed, terrorism and war in the pursuit of ideological ends. This includes resisting an authentic opening in Cuba where Cubans are the authors of their own destiny and imposing that model in Venezuela. Refusing to recognize this difficult reality will have dire consequences for the region.

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