NASCAR’s Sabates threatens to withhold charity if pope goes to Cuba
WASHINGTON — The outspoken part-owner of a NASCAR team that includes driver Juan Pablo Montoya wants Pope Benedict XVI to rethink his visit next week to the communist island of Cuba.
Felix Sabates, who fled Cuba 53 years ago and has become one of the United States’ most successful sports entrepreneurs, is so concerned that the Castro regime is using the pope to legitimize its oppressive rule that, Sabates says, he’s rethinking his philanthropy work for the Roman Catholic Church.
“If the leader is doing that, I’m not so sure that I need to support the church like I used to support it. And I’m serious about that. I am more than pissed off,” said Sabates, 69. “As long as there is a Castro in power, whether it’s Fidel or Raul, it’s going to be the same thing.”
Pope Benedict is traveling to Cuba for a three-day visit to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the appearance of the Virgin of Charity of Cobre, the patron of Cuba.
Sabates, a minority owner of Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing in North Carolina and former investor of the NBA Charlotte Hornets and Bobcats, once received a special blessing in writing from the late Pope John Paul II.
Sabates has donated generously to Catholic causes. He won’t say how much he’s given, but a dining hall at Belmont Abbey College outside Charlotte, N.C., is named after him. He’s donated to the Catholic high school where his children and grandchildren have attended. He continues to give annually to St. Vincent de Paul Church in Charlotte.
Sabates’ concerns about the pope’s visit align with those of many activists and Cuban exiles who think the pontiff’s trip will promote communism and do little or nothing to improve human rights. Some 750 activists sent a letter to Pope Benedict this month warning that his visit “would be like sending a message to the oppressors that they can continue to do whatever they want, that the church will allow it.”
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