Another Pope, Another Cuba, Another Church / Mario Barroso

Monsignor Pedro Claro Meurice Estiu and Pope John Paul II in Cuba in 1998

The scenario is different. The visitor also.

When the Polish Pope, John Paul II, Karol Wojtyla, visited Cuba in 1998 he found Monsignor Pedro Claro Meurice Estiu as archbishop in Santiago de Cuba, and in him, the loudest Cuban voice rose among those who had such a possibility. The Pope’s “Let Cuba open itself to the world and the world open itself to Cuba,” was greeted at least by “the lion of the East” as the most read description of Cuba as it could be: that of a people who “need to learn to demystify the false messianism” of “a growing number of Cubans who have confused the country with a party, the nation with the historical process we have experienced in recent decades, and culture with an ideology’; a people that “lives here and lives in the diaspora”; and the Cuban who “suffers, lives and waits here and suffers, lives and waits there.”

When that traveling Pope of “Be not afraid” visited Cuba, he also found a towering prophetic voice within the Catholic publications which by then had grown to twenty-two acute publications, the brave Vitral, of the Catholic Center for Civic and Religious of the diocese of Pinar del Rio, led by that other great Christian who is still here Dagoberto Valdés. Dagoberto declared after the papal pilgrimage that the Pope who visited us was not any pope but “the Polish Pope who knows Nazism, communism and capitalism in his own flesh,” and then concluded that after the visit Pope’s “Cuba must cross the threshold and move on.”

But when the new German Pope, Benedict XVI, arrives in Santiago de Cuba he will not find any lion to receive him. He will be welcomed primarily by pastors who did little to save some peaceful women from the frenetic mobs who will be sent by the regime to receive the Bishop of Rome, hiding in the same t-shirts as the faithful. Pastors who surely boast of having achieved the release, in 2012, if 52 prisoners from that group of 75 of the Black Spring of 2003, and others, and with such arrogance usurp the true merit of the martyrdom of Orlando Zapata Tamayo; the challenge of women armed only with gladioli, to whom the Sovereign of the Vatican probably not even reply to their request for a meeting; and the fasting of Mr. Guillermo Fariñas who thus won the Sakharov Prize 2010 of the European Parliament.

Pastors who were actually used by the regime to get them out of one of their greatest quagmires after the visit of John Paul II. Negotiations with which the regime thought it might eliminate the common position toward Cuba of the European Union, before its rampages, but marred by the murder of Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia, who put paid to the approaches of the Cardinal Jaime Ortega, realized at that exact moment on behalf of the regime, as their messenger to Europe.

When Benedict passes through Havana to celebrate Mass and meet with those who ignored the words of his predecessor, he still will not hear the prophetic voice of Vitral, and not because the regime itself has exercised its rage directly, but because by the works and grace of one of its own pastors the church distributed the opium that the regime needs to numb the people. As Castro’s victory over the most authentic of Cuban Christians, the bishop of Pinar del Rio, was responsible for clouding Easter forever on Sunday April 8, 2007, with the announcement of the cessation of the magazine at its 78th edition.

As heir of several centuries of Baptist thought, I profess the universal priesthood of believers and take communion with whomever upholds the lordship of Christ, whom anyone can access without human intermediaries, as a corollary of belief. Being part of this radical people in the history of the faith makes me disagree on the so-called infallibility of the Pope, no matter who holds the position.

For believing this, hundreds of thousands of faith of my ancestors lost their lives in the fires stirred by the Pope of their day. From this point of view, and consistent with the principle of congregational government held by our free and autonomous churches, which greatly influenced the origin of modern democracies, we find the monarchy of the Vatican, which concentrates full legislative, executive and judicial in hands of one man, to be the best example of totalitarianism. But if I set aside my strong values and simply take the position of thousands of Catholics, they, too, expect very little from the visit of this Pope in particular.

In September 2000, Joseph Ratzinger, who was not yet Pope, but who was the cardinal leading the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the current version of the bloody Inquisition, endorsed the Declaration Dominus Iesus, which turned back almost all advances made by the progressive Second Vatican Council. I believe that the appointment of this cardinal to the pontificate was a huge step backward for the Holy See. The adverse reactions from that time should not be forgotten; it suffices to mention, just in the religious sphere, starting from within Catholicism, the renowned Swiss theologian Hans Küng; to Setri Nyomi, general secretary of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches; George Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the Anglican Church, to Tom Best, member of Team Faith and the World Council of Churches; to Anfred Koch, representing the German Lutherans, and a multitude of plural voices of evangelical leaders belonging to churches without hierarchy, like me.

If we stick only to the words of the famous Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff, a frequently quoted by the Cuban media, but not recently, the discourse of Ratzinger is not only specific to Romanism, but to all contemporary totalitarianism. Many dissidents voices have expectations of this visit, but the regime has made clear in its editorials that Pope Benedict XVI is their guest, and of course, also a guest of the church, a church paradoxically more committed to the system since the visit of John Paul II, as evidenced by the gap left by Meurice, and censorship of Vitral. It is the Cuban government who undoubtedly most awaits the visit of the Head of State, and there is reason to believe that it will be disappointed; after all, Hitler also hoped for the visit of Pius XII and he was not disappointed.

March 15 2012