On March 28, Pope Benedict XVI completed his six-day visit to Mexico and Cuba. In both stops, the Pope sought to propagate the faith and demonstrate the connectivity between faith and the moral and spiritual conditions of modern man.
In Cuba, the Pope did not visit with those who speak in opposition to the Castro regime. He did meet with a visibly aging, weakened Fidel Castro.
Vatican spokesman Frederico Lombardi said the Pope granted a meeting to Fidel Castro—but not to dissidents who had requested the same—out of the church’s respect for its Cuban government hosts. “When the pope comes to a country…he has to take into account all the requests and suggestions of the authorities.” He added, “It is the authorities who invited the Holy Father to the country.”
NBC, which seldom pays attention to Cuban repression, dispatched Andrea Mitchell to the island for the papal visit, where she too noted an unwillingness to carve out time for a meeting with those who stand for liberty.
The Pope made no mention of jailed American Alan Gross and pleased his Cuban hosts by denouncing the U.S. trade embargo. The visit also gave greater prominence to the mediating role of the Catholic Church on the island and the work of Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega.
The Cuban regime stepped up repression aimed at keeping dissidents away from the Pope. Cell phones went dead all over the island. More than 200 peaceful dissidents were rounded up before the Pope’s arrival to prevent them from showing up at his public meetings, human rights groups reported. A dissident who shouted “down with communism” during the pope’s Mass in Santiago de Cuba was beaten and arrested in front of cameras.
While human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Freedom House have all spoken up about continued repression in Cuba, the Vatican remained distressingly silent on the latest incidents and crackdown.
The question, then: Did the Castro brothers win a tactical victory in the battle for survival of their crumbling revolutionary model? Perhaps.
“Gen. Raúl Castro,” observed The Miami Herald’s Andres Oppeneheimer, “the Cuban leader, and his brother Fidel Castro were able to portray the image, domestically and abroad, that they are not international pariahs who are shunned by many world leaders for running a police state that has not allowed a free election, political parties or independent media for more than five decades.”
In Cuba, there will not be political reform, remarked Marino Murillo, Cuba’s economic czar and a vice president.
Yet Pope Benedict XVI spoke a fundamental truth of the modern world: “Today, it is evident that Marxist ideology in the way it was conceived no longer corresponds to reality.” He delivered a message demanding freedom and dignity for all. He proposed a better future in a
Cuba [that] will be the home of all and for all Cubans, where justice and freedom coexist in a climate of serene fraternity. Respect and promotion of freedom which is present in the heart of each person are essential in order to respond adequately to the fundamental demands of his or her dignity and, in this way, to build up a society in which all are indispensable actors in the future of their life, their family and their country.
The Catholic Church and history, he implied, do not side with oppressors.
In its waning days, the Castro regime is caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. On one hand, it faces the strong and powerful force of the Christian religion, which has outlasted the atheism, dialectical materialism, and collectivism that underlie Cuba’s ruling Marxist–Leninist ideology. On the other, it faces the rising spirit of ordinary Cubans—not the privileged of the Cuban Communist Party—who grow more tired on a daily basis of the arrogance, false promises, and repression of the Castro regime.
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.