The Pope’s Visit to Cuba: Expectations and Possibilities / Intramuros

Editorial 24

The Catholic Church and the official press have announced that His Holiness the Pope Benedict XVI “is considering visiting Mexico and Cuba during the spring of the year 2012”. At the same time, the spokesman of the Holy See has declared that the State Department of the Supreme Pontiff has told the Papal Nuncios in each one of these countries to inform the respective ecclesiastical and civilian authorities about the expected visit.
This news which was published at the beginning of November has aroused numerous expectations and possibilities. More than a half of the Catholic Church one thousand million members live in Latin America so the visit of the Supreme Pastor of the Catholic Church is always a momentous event that does not leave indifferent either the visited Church or the civilian authorities or a great part of the people that declares itself a believer from a Christian matrix.
It’s about two things at the same time which are inseparably mixed in one person: the visit of the head of one church and the head of a small State which symbolizes the sovereignty of this religious denomination to be able to exercise its evangelizing mission, without interference or manipulation. That is why whether we want it or not, every visit of one Pope has a religious dimension and another political and social dimension. For this reason it brings spiritual and political expectations in a wide sense though his visit is essentially religious.
However, the visit of a head of State should not be compared or likened to the visit of the Pope; if we do that we would be making a mistake in perspective, in interpretation and expectations.
Cuba already had a papal visit 14 years ago. His Holiness the Pope John Paul II who has been declared blessed and has been venerated as a saint by millions of persons around the world, carried out an unforgettable pastoral visit to our Island which lasted five days, from the 21st to the 25th of January 1998. It’s impossible not to bear this in mind and it’s very probable that some try to make comparisons with the announced pilgrimage of Benedict XVI. Though it is natural that we remember and evoke that historic event the best thing we should do is to be aware of the fact that any visit of this kind can’t be likened to another one because they are different Pontiffs, because this is a different time and because Cuba in 1998 was a different one in many aspects compared to the Cuba of 2012.
However, we wish to be participants in this stage of preparation of the possible Pope’s visit so we wish to tell some expectations and possibilities shared by some Cubans, women and men, not necessarily Catholics. There is an old Latin saying though it’s not always exact and it goes: “what goes to Rome comes from Rome”. This generally means that the expectations of the Church are very important and so are the expectations of the rest of the Nation that the Pope will visit; the view of the local reality that will be informed to the Pope and the characteristics of his pastoral pilgrimage as desired by both parties.
That is why it is logical and good that the Holy Father should listen to what the Church and the people wish from his visit. But it is also logical and good that the Pope should wish to convey his message without distorting his mission and being at the service of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, his only paradigm and source of inspiration. The results of a Pontifical visit depend essentially on the smooth communication and the consistence with the identity and the mission of all the protagonists of such event: the Church, the people and the authorities.
The president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Cuba who is Dionisio García, Archbishop from Santiago de Cuba has stated that the Pope will come mainly to participate, as a pilgrim, in the celebrations of the discovery of the Virgin of Charity image from El Cobre: the mother, queen and patron of the Republic of Cuba. Thus the center of the Pope’s presence in Cuba will be the visit and the Eucharist that will be held in the National Sanctuary-Basilica of El Cobre. And though the itinerary has not been announced, and it appears to be short, we expect he will visit the Capital too in order to have another religious celebration and pay his greetings to the authorities of the country. We cannot either rule out that the Pontiff would have encounters with more specific sectors of the Church, for example, young people, laics, bishops, priests and nuns.
It is a responsibility and a duty of each citizen not to stay indifferent toward the national events. The preparation of a papal visit does not belong exclusively to the Church; it is a civic and religious task. All of us should express our opinion, suggest things and show what we feel inside us. We should show our souls because above all it is the visit of a spiritual leader and we all have a soul and we all share the Nation’s soul. Here are some of our expectations and opinions:
1. Charity unites us. Unity is inclusion.
“Charity unites us”. This is the slogan that summarizes the spirit of the celebrations of the 400 years of the discovery of the Virgin of Charity image which is at the same time, the end and the center of the papal visit. Then charity is the Christian name for love that makes us give ourselves to the others so it should unite all Cubans and that’s why our expectation in that sense is that this unity will not be uniformity in thinking, believing in options and in acts. We believe that this unity should not exclude the different ones and the ones that upset the government or the Church. We believe that this unity is not unanimity or unity around one only option. Any way, in only one phrase which is, at the same time, our main expectation regarding this topic: Unity is inclusion. Thus the Pope’s visit should include all the representatives of the Cuban nation, all of us children of the Virgin of Charity: the believers, the non-believers, the government, the opposition and the civil society, the ones who live in the Island and the ones who live in the Diaspora. If any of these groups is left out of the papal visit and out of the life in Cuba the unity in charity would not be possible. The degree of inclusion before, during and after the visit could be one of the expectations and opportunities for the preparation and the evaluation of the visit.
2. The spirit that will promote the pacific and gradual structural changes.
The pacific and gradual structural changes in the political, economic, social, cultural and anthropologic environments are not the purposes of the Pope’s visit but they are an urgent need of the people that the Pope will visit and a need of the Church that will receive him. These changes are not a task that the Pope should carry out or a task that should be carried out by the Church in Cuba exclusively but each substantial reform has its foundation in the soul of the people and in the spirit of the citizens. Thus, everything that strengthens the spirit of Cubans, men and women; everything that nurtures the Nation’s soul; everything that opens up the nation to the best motions of the Spirit of Truth, Good and Beauty will revitalize the changes that have been patiently expected for a long time. The degree of spiritual depth before, during and after this visit can be one of the expectations and opportunities to prepare the visit, to experience it and evaluate it.
3. The promotion of the sovereignty of citizens and a national inclusive dialogue about essential topics.
The people that the Pope will visit and even the Catholic Church that is preparing his visit which is a part of that people have had a deficit in citizen education and ethical education to live in freedom, responsibility, participative democracy and fraternity during more than half a century. This civic and moral illiteracy is one of the greatest shortages of the people and the Church the Pope will visit. It’s a pastoral and evangelizing duty of the Church to contribute, with its educative mission, to the education for citizen sovereignty, responsible civic participation and the inseparable coherence between ethics and politics without choosing any ideology or partisan political option. One of the expectations and opportunities to prepare this visit, to experience it and evaluate it is the endeavour for an ethical and civic education that may be present before, during and after the visit. This education would lead to an authentic national dialogue without exclusions in order to deal with every essential topic.
4. The reconstruction of the sovereign fabric of civil society.
The reconstruction of the sovereign fabric of civil society is a long-term task and a consequence of the education of each person as a citizen, of the ethical responsibility and a spiritual mystique in order to achieve that the discouragement, the human miseries and the materialist and hedonistic interests do not destroy this task for the present and the future of Cuba. The Pope’s visit, the way of life and work of the very Church as a paradigm of one of the communities in civil society could be a view, a motion and a possibility of work on the occasion of the Pontiff’s visit. The preparation, the carrying out and the ecclesial style that the Pope’s visit to Cuba will leave can be a testimonial and prophetic school for the reconstruction of a sound civil society. At the same time that life school for civil society can be an expectation and an opportunity to prepare the visit, to experience it and to evaluate it before, during and after the visit.
5 The decriminalization of discrepancy.
Cuba needs, above all, to live in the respect and the agreement of diversity which is natural and desirable in a sound society. Cuba needs to decriminalize discrepancy, such as a relevant journalist in Camagüey has said. The mission of Christianity is, according to the Gospel of Saint Luke in its chapter 4, 18-21: To preach the Gospel to the poor; to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind; to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord”.
That’s to mark the visit of the Pastor of the Church we can expect: an amnesty for all the political prisoners or prisoners of conscience, rather than pardon; the cessation of all repression and to change the climate of exasperation we find in the media and on the streets: an environment of war, conspiracy and espionage that harms the Nation’s soul and the spirit of Cubanhood: to change all that toward an atmosphere of confidence and fraternity. This good news, guaranteed and consolidated by the complete decriminalization of discrepancy, before, during and after the pontifical visit can be one of the expectations and opportunities to prepare the visit, to experience it and evaluate it.
6. Toward a true religious freedom.
The true religious freedom in a modern laic State is not “the permit” for each action or work by the churches and it is not having a special office to control their activities or to exclude some works, persons and groups from the Church in order to obtain “the normalization” of the relations between the Church and the State. These relations will only be normal when the Churches enjoy a true religious freedom guaranteed by law or Concordat, by the renewal of mentality and by a social environment of freedom and respect for all the believers. The religious freedom is not a privilege for the ecclesiastic institutions but a right of each citizen and each community of believers. To take care of this right is a responsibility of the Hierarchy of the Church and the civil Authority as well. There cannot be religious freedom if only one of the believers is pursued, discriminated, excluded or repressed for his faith and for the consequences of his faith regarding his political, economic and social options. The purposes of the Gospel are not exclusively the good relations between the Church and the State but and above all, the good relations among all citizens and the State. To promote this more holistic concept of religious freedom can be a support and a source, inspiration and complement of all the other liberties, human rights and expectations regarding the life of the Churches and the Pope’s visit. The degree of true religious freedom achieved before, during and after this visit and for each Cuban can be one of the expectations and opportunities to prepare this visit, to experience it and evaluate it.
7. National reconciliation: truth, justice, amnesty and magnanimity.
Another expectation about the papal visit is that it should contribute to the long and necessary process of national reconciliation. For more than five decades confrontation among Cubans that think and act differently has been stimulated. Persons that love Cuba and work pacifically for it have been unfairly called “warms”, mercenaries, traitors and all kinds of degrading damaging remarks. Informers and oppressors have done a lot of physical and psychological harm. The pontifical visit should use a strong spiritual and ethical motivation to make this mania of discrediting the person instead of disagreeing with serenity about his ideas stop. Weak must be the arguments against these ideas when discredit is used against this person. The people that the Pope will visit needs a deep process of national reconciliation that necessarily should include these four steps: a commission of truth, legal processes with all the guarantees, an amnesty without amnesia not to fall in the same hole ever again and a spirit of magnanimity which is the mix of forgiveness and fraternity. The degree in which the preparation of the papal visit, the visit itself and what comes afterwards contribute to the process of national reconciliation can be one of the expectations and opportunities to prepare the visit, to experience it and evaluate it.
8. The opening-up to the world strengthens the cultural identity and the national sovereignty.
“May Cuba open- up to the world and may the world open-up to Cuba” was one of the most stunning messages of the visit paid by John Paul II to Cuba 14 years ago. Quickly, many of us in Cuba added that together with those two openings and as a consequence of them the government should open-up mainly to the very Cubans so that all of us can enjoy all the rights. Unfortunately the three openings are still unresolved, some are not started, and some are not completed. The world has changed since 14 years ago: it is more independent, more supportive, more conscious and sensitive to the violations of the Human Rights and to the use of violence in any ways and places. The opening up and the interdependence do not degrade or harm but strengthen the cultural identity and the national sovereignty if the citizens have an ethical and civic education to start a dialogue with other cultures and other nations. Paternalism thinks that by locking up their children at home as if they were little and by giving them a simplified version of the world will result in the children’s fidelity and purity. The very life denies the efficiency of being so enclosed regarding information, media, interpersonal relations, travel and interchange among countries. The degree of opening to the world, to Cubans and to all of human rights for all achieved before, during and after this visit can be one of the expectations and opportunities to prepare this visit, to experience it and evaluate it.
9. The transition from fear to hope and from hope to the reconstruction of the Country.
Cuba needs a deep transition but not only a political and economic transition. Cuba needs, above all and first of all, to transit from fear to hope. This indicator of the situation in our country and the life quality we have in this Island is indeed measurable by all of us: Cuba will not really change if you find fear around you. If television threatens and attacks; if the newspapers are libels that denigrate the different ones; if your neighbourhood is a nest of distrust and informers; if your job is a pack of envy and corruption. If all this happens then something is wrong in Cuba and it must change. There is no life quality where fear is present. If there is no hope the future moves away from each one of us and from the country. A country where the hope of persons lies in the possibility to travel to any other country in order to improve has to change substantially. The Pope’s visit, its preparation and its continuity can be evaluated by the concrete steps in this urgent itinerary of transition from fear to hope and from hope to the reconstruction of the Country with freedom and responsibility.
10. We Cubans, women and men are and should be the protagonists of our own personal and national history.
Another unfinished legacy of the visit paid by John Paul II is that message three times repeated by the venerated Pontiff: “You are and should be the protagonists of your own personal and national history”. This is maybe the foundation, the key and the guarantee of all the expectations and possibilities related to the visit of Benedict XVI: Only if we Cubans, women and men accept our personal and civic responsibility the changes in Cuba will be implemented with depth and peace. The Pope will not turn all of our expectations into realities but the prominence and the responsibility of all Cubans will do it; and we will be able to do it and we should do it counting on the supplement of the soul that religions can give through their mystique, their spirituality, their ethics and their liberating and holistic view of reality.
The visit of every religious leader is always a call and a spiritual encouragement for all who want to listen and accept the Pope’s wise suggestions and advices. That is why the visit of His Holiness Benedict XVI can be a magnificent catalyst in this gradual but irreversible process in which each Cuban, woman and man should accept our responsibility, our social and historic prominence to implement, all of us without exclusion or violence, the changes that only we Cubans should do for Cubans.
This will depend on each one of us but very especially on the authorities and the faithful of the Catholic Church and also on the authorities and followers of the Country’s government. It will also depend on the contribution of those Cubans, women and men who have decided to exercise their citizen sovereignty in the every day national events.
This is the time for every one to contribute what he thinks, what he expects, what he will decide to do on the occasion of the Pope’s visit during the next spring in Cuba.
Pinar del Río, November 20th 2011
22nd Anniversary of Father Varela’s Birth.

Translation from the Convivencia website.

December 1 2011