Pope’s Visit To Cuba Stirs Hope As Palsy of the Castro Regime Grows More Aggravated

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The New York Sun

In regard to the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Cuba next week, the official version of events from the Vatican and from the cardinal in Havana, Jaime Ortega y Alamino, is one of uplift and celebration of the Church’s progress since the visit of Pope John Paul II to Cuba in 1998. What the pope actually expects to accomplish is disconcertingly unclear.

According to Britain’s Catholic Herald, Raul Castro now lists his religion as Catholic. Even allowing that this would be the most improbable manifestation of the grace of conversion since the former communist leader of Bulgaria, Todor Zhivkov, suggested that his country might wish to apply for statehood in the United States, it is conceivable that the ghastly, catastrophic Castro regime that has been riveted on the back of Cuba for 53 years, is, in the extreme winter of its baleful days, doing a rethink on militant secularism.

The Castros have become so idiosyncratic that trying to evaluate any public policy developments in Cuba could as well be done with a Ouija board as by normal scrutiny of official comments, as Fidel has effectively admitted that communism has been an almost complete failure in Cuba. In the circumstances, it would not be unseemly or unjustified if he and Raul checked into a monastery to sing their repentances for all they have inflicted on Cuba, for the balance of their golden years, from a genuflective or even prostrate position. But celebration of the triumph of any such redemptionist and expiatory impulse would be, to say the least, premature.

Officially, the Pope is coming for the 400th anniversary of the patroness saint of Cuba, the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre, La Caridad as she is generally called. This is doubtless partly true, but there are a great many saints, and the Pope cannot discommode himself to this extent for many of them. And unlike his predecessor, his personal emphasis is much more on intellectual theology, including through the arts and high culture, than on revelations, alleged apparitions, and the veneration of saints.

There has been some definite progress for the Roman Catholic Church in Cuba. As in China and other countries that oppress religious practice, there has been a flourishing of “house churches,” with congregations meeting in informally or temporarily consecrated homes to attract less heavy-handed state hostility. A new seminary is opening in Havana, responding, apparently, to a need for and local desire to fill more vocations. The Catholic federation of charities, Caritas, is steadily more active, presumably in response to the ever more aggravated palsy of the state, and a new Catholic cultural centre is about to launch Cuba’s first MBA program. Cardinal Ortega, who gets very mixed reviews from those concerned for the Church’s role as an advocate of liberty and the dignity of the individual generally, has recently arranged the release of 50 political prisoners.

Yesterday, aboard the Papal plane, Pope Benedict declared plainly to reporters that “Marxist ideology in the way it was conceived no longer corresponds to reality,” and that “new models” must be found for Cuba. He added that “we want to help in a spirit of dialogue to avoid traumas and to help move forward a society which is fraternal and just.”

When asked about the subject of human rights in Cuba, the Pope said that “the Church is always on the side of freedom.” Yet the Pope has not agreed to meet any of the heroic crusaders for human rights in Cuba, who have borne on their necks and backs the hobnailed jackboots of the Stalinist Castro regime. The leaders of the “Ladies in White,” a valiant group that has endured beatings, jail, and likely state-sponsored assassinations to protest political imprisonment for a decade, has beseeched the nuncio for an interview with the Pope “even for one minute,” and has been coldly informed by Ortega’s office that the pope’s schedule will not permit it, even though it has been made clear that the Pope is prepared to meet Fidel, should the ex-president desire it. The cardinal had the state police remove a group conducting a sit-in at the shrine of La Caridad seeking a papal audience. Cardinal Ortega did celebrate a mass for convalescing Marxist President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, but has so far declined to perform the same honor for the many political dissidents whom the Castros have murdered.

The Roman Catholic Church is both adept and notorious at balancing material and spiritual values. But there is no practical reason to engage in appeasement of this decrepit and abominable regime, which is in no position to emulate Stalin in his contemptuous inquiry of Pius XII, “How may divisions has the pope?” (Stalin was in no position to put the question either, as it turned out, but it took some time for that fact to become clear, after Stalin and Pius both had gone on to their rewards.)

From all this foreplay to the Pope’s visit to Cuba, the circumstantial evidence is that the Holy See and the Cuban cardinal are trading the advancement of traditional religious practice and pastoral and educational activity for detachment from political protest. Beyond a certain point, a threshold the Castros have been on the wrong side of for their entire excruciating incumbency, this is an unjustifiable reduction and dereliction of the Church’s duty to align itself with the oppressed.

This pope, though not as exposed and heroically resistant to the evils of totalitarian communism as his predecessor, had a longer and closer exposure to the antics of the Nazis, and has an unblemished record in his moral disdain and animosity for oppressive secular states. His antagonism to the Castro regime is a well-known matter of public record. Both popes were brought up in the Church in the heroic traditions of Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski, primate of Poland, and Joseph Cardinal Mindszenty, primate of Hungary, and the resistant German clergy who were tortured and in some cases martyred for their faith and advocacy.

And both, despite their desire for normalized relations with Russia and China, declined to legitimize the official discrimination against the Roman Catholic Uniate Church of Russia, and the heretical mockery of the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association. Neither visited those countries, and the Vatican still (magnificently) recognizes Taiwan as the government of China, to the unspeakable frustration of Beijing. John Paul II, with whom this pope collaborated intimately for decades, played a key role in destabilizing communism in Eastern Europe, especially Poland, and in Latin America, especially Nicaragua.

The Cuban government is ambling that the pope will grace the 400th anniversary of La Caridad, celebrate the Church’s progress, and give the parlous state of the liberties of the Cubans a pass. All those who have wished the benighted Cubans who have resisted the temptation to flee to Florida well, will fervently hope that once there, Benedict will make an unmistakable gesture of support and encouragement to the heroes of the cause of liberty in the suffering island.

Excerpted from the National Post. cbletters@gmail.com

The New York Sun

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