THE POPE IN CUBA
Today’s meeting will take place in order to avoid overshadowing Raúl. Dissidents are disappointed at not being able to meet the Pope
Taken from Vatican Insider
CORRESPONDENT IN HAVANA
Behind a front of polite niceties a diplomatic battle is raging between Rome and Havana. Today the Pope will meet Fidel Castro (after having met his brother Raul yesterday), but not the dissidents. The one-to-one meeting with the “Maximum Leader” was postponed at the last minute, in order to avoid overshadowing the one with his brother. The Pope will meet the former regime leader on the same day he is set to celebrate the farewell mass. The delay is apparently due to protocol, but has actually been arranged in order not to divert media attention away from the meeting with the current head of state, that might otherwise be outshined by the one with the charismatic figure of Castro. A formal delay to the two meetings means double media exposure for the regime and a non delegitimization of the current leadership.
After all, the papal mission is a constant “work in progress”, developing minute by minute. Yesterday Pope Benedict XVI visited the presidential building in Havana. He was saddened at not being able to embrace the Cuban political dissidents as well, but needed to avoid any backlashes against the already oppressed Cuban Church. “The dissidents are in the Pope’s heart nonetheless” the Pope’s entourage assured. No weakness is shown to the regime. Between the Holy See and the Cuban government there is obvious tension, which is barely disguised by the perfunctory smiles of the delegations during official events. Here in the Caribbean, in the last Cold War outpost, the Pope’s visit is really “hot stuff”.
Unscheduled meetings are feared by the authorities as much as a hurricane. On the one hand, the presence of the Pope guarantees visibility internationally, on the other, the struggling regime fears the possible consequences. Benedict XVI managed not to let himself be intimidated and did not lend himself to propaganda. In Santiago, for example, he took his distance from Raúl Castro’s attack against the USA. In the Cuban capital the Pope is playing one of the most complex matches of his mandate. He is surrounded by the warmth of the local Church that is emerging once more from underground. Everywhere the streets are crowded with followers. Religious songs, acclaims and choirs as if during a feast day can be heard at all hours.
Classical concerts and ballet shows typical of East Germany fade in comparison to the spontaneous gatherings of young people with guitars. They have showered Benedict XVI with the enthusiasm and sense of liberation they have secretly kept in their hearts for years. The Pope, both pastor and theologian, was from the beginning on the same wave length. With his prophetic words he opened up new perspectives, while the regime hid behind old fashioned defences and a language reminiscent of the Soviet Union. The Pope took the plunge and asked the government for a “change in moral direction”, the regime replied: “There won’t be political changes in Cuba, but we will update all necessary in the economic model”. The Pope decreed the death of Marxism and the vice-president Marino Murillo replied “that in Cuba there will be an adjustment in the economic structure to sustain our socialist model”. Pope Benedict XVI prayed for those “without freedom” and remembered the prisoners and all the people who were and are suffering, while the “isla bonita” was being swept by a new wave of political arrests.
The final papal message does not condone in any way the violations of human rights and the persecutions against the Church. Thanks to the “new vigour” of their faith, Cuban Catholics must take action with the weapons of “peace, forgiveness and understanding,” to build an open society. A society which feels renewed, better, worthier of mankind and that might reflect God’s bounty.” “When God is driven away, the world becomes inhospitable for mankind.”
Anti Castro exiles too wanted to “do their bit.” They organized a fireworks display and a flotilla of seven ships setting off from Key West. The dissidents living in the island tried to vanquish Evil with torches and candles in a symbolic embrace. The pope visited “ an oppressed country that wants to be free and pleads for human rights to be respected,” added Carmelo Diaz Fernandez, one of the 75 dissidents arrested in the 2003 roundups, the time known as the Black Spring of Cuba.