Pope Benedict’s Trip to Cuba: Journey to Hostile Terrain
The communist government makes it easier for Cubans to participate in papal visit, but the Church still suffers.
Pope Benedict XVI has not traveled to as many countries as Pope John Paul II did in his first seven years as Pope — 22 countries compared to about 75.
But Pope Benedict has taken on significant belly-of-the-beast excursions, visits that require the Holy Father to assert the Catholic theological and moral vision in an embattled context, whether it be Germany, Turkey or England.
Benedict’s pilgrimage to Cuba, which begins this afternoon, is another journey into hostile terrain. Cuba’s government has been one of the most relentlessly anti-religious in the world.
Yet the communist government is giving paid leave to state workers who want to attend papal events. And Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the archbishop of Havana, was given 30 minutes on highly controlled state TV last week to talk about the value of Pope Benedict XVI’s pilgrimage.
What’s going on? Pope Benedict’s three-day stay in Cuba this week must be understood in a 50-year context.
Some have criticized Pope Benedict’s visit as helping to legitimize the Castro dictatorship. (President Raul Castro, 80, effectively replaced his brother Fidel, 85, in 2006, when the elder developed an intestinal illness; Raul formally became president in 2008.)
Close to 750 regime opponents living in Cuba signed a letter to the Holy Father warning him that his visit might “send a message to the oppressors that they can continue” abusing those who demand freedom.
But the Vatican’s long historical experience sees this visit in a continuum stretching back to Christ’s first public proclamation: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring the good news to the afflicted, proclaim liberty to captives, sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim a year of favor from the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19).
So a captive island is an appropriate destination for St. Peter’s successor.
Understandably, many Cubans hope he will serve as an agent of change.
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