National Catholic Register reporter Victor Gaetan on Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Cuba and the hope on the island that the pope will recognize the suffering and struggles of Cuba’s courageous dissidents:
Pope’s Visit to Cuba: Historic Visit at Vital Time
Dissident Groups Hope Benedict Will Recognize Their Plight
by Victor Gaetan, Register correspondent
WASHINGTON — Pope Benedict XVI’s pilgrimage to Cuba March 26-28 has demonstrated the breathtaking power of the universal Church to erase borders.
When the bishop of Santiago de Cuba, the easternmost city in Cuba, realized he needed more priests for the expected surge in confessions around the Holy Father’s visit, he turned to his northern neighbors in the Archdiocese of Miami.
No matter that relations between the United States and Cuba remain tense, as they have been for more than 50 years. “Reconciliation” is the theme emphasized by the Church in both countries.
According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide, in recent weeks, Cuban political police have arrested Ladies in White and other human-rights activists across the island as they tried to attend Sunday Mass. Protestants as well as Catholics are being targeted, the organization reported.
As a result of this continuous harassment, many believers in Cuba and abroad are beseeching Pope Benedict to meet with representative Ladies in White and to speak out against violations of human rights.
The award-winning Cuban-American writer Carlos Eire, who holds the chair in Catholic studies at Yale University, wrote a moving open letter to the Holy Father, posted March 5 at National Review Online.
“Your public acknowledgment of the Ladies in White could change the course of history,” Eire wrote. “They pray for that; we all pray for it too, along with them. I, a beggar, driven from my homeland 50 years ago, join the bold Ladies in begging.”
Miret agrees with Eire. “I’m afraid the government will look good because it is willing to honor the Pope, but human rights won’t be brought up. I do not oppose the Pope’s visit — the people need him — but I am against the Holy Father ignoring what is wrong,” explained Miret. “He should meet with the Ladies in White.”
The leading Catholic democracy activist in Cuba, Oswaldo Paya, hopes to be present for the Pope’s visit. As the founder of the Christian Liberation Movement in the 1980s, he led a grassroots effort, the Varela Project, which collected approximately 25,000 signatures from Cubans requesting a referendum on basic liberties such as the rights to expression and association, free elections and free enterprise. Much of the movement’s leadership was jailed in 2003; Paya is under 24/7 surveillance by Cuban security operatives.
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