Pope Francis Confesses: ‘I Have a Human Relationship with Raul Castro’

From left to right, Pope Francis, Raúl Castro and his grandson, Raúl Guillermo Rodríguez Castro, ’El Cangrejo’, son of the recently deceased Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja. (Granma)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 12 July 2022 — Pope Francis avoided referring to the protests of July 11, 2021 in Cuba this Monday, when the first anniversary of that historic day was celebrated. Journalists María Antonieta Collins, from Univisión, and Valentina Alazraki, from Televisa, specifically asked him about this in an interview. However, the pontiff did not want to mention the demonstrations and the current situation on the Island and diverted his response to the 2014 “thaw” between the US and the Island.

“I was happy,” he said, “when that small agreement with the United States was made, which President Obama wanted at the time and Raúl Castro accepted… It was a good step forward but it has stopped now,” the pontiff said, adding that he is aware of new “narratives” and “probing dialogues” to “shorten the distance” between Havana and Washington.

“I confess: I have a human relationship with Raúl Castro,” said the Pope, who said he felt, as expected, “very close to the Cuban bishops.”

“Cuba is a symbol. Cuba has a great history,” concluded the Pope, who in 2016 had described Havana as “the capital of unity,” during the signing of a controversial joint declaration between the Vatican and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow at the José Martí airport.

Pope Francis was one of the main actors in the restoration of diplomatic relations between the island and the United States. The late Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega described the Vatican mediation between Obama and Castro as a process characterized by “extreme discretion, secret conversations, quest for access to key personalities, hidden encounters, tenacious overcoming of obstacles.”

The Pope’s sympathies towards the Cuban Government have remained intact since those years. During the 11J protests, many expected an expression of condemnation of state violence and closeness to the people, but on that occasion he was no less evasive.

After a long silence, during the Angelus prayer on July 18, he listlessly mentioned the situation on the Island: “I ask the Lord to help you build an increasingly just and fraternal society in peace, dialogue and solidarity. I urge  all Cubans to entrust themselves to the maternal protection of the Virgin Mary of Charity of El Cobre. She will accompany them on this journey.”

To this was added that, in October 2021, the Vatican authorities and the Italian Police prohibited a group of Cubans from demonstrating in Saint Peter’s Square, under the pretext that they could only enter as pilgrims and not to make political demands. The demonstrators recalled, in turn, that in 2008 several Italian citizens entered the same place, with a banner demanding the release of the five Cuban spies detained in the United States.

Collins and Alazraki also asked Francis how he felt about being accused of being a communist by different figures and the media. “I’m not worried. I see it as something outdated,” was his response.

“Certain media groups dedicate themselves to ideologizing our position. Sometimes they do not know how to distinguish what communism is from what Nazism, populism or popularism is. So with the communism thing, I say: this is outdated, those accusations are over,” he added.

The interview, which has already been applauded by the Cuban official press, also addressed the rumors about the pontiff’s resignation due to his health problems. “I don’t feel that the Lord is asking me,” he said, although he did not rule out that in the future he could leave the papal seat, which he has chaired for 9 years, if it became an “obstacle.”


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