The Wind, the Sheep and the Shepherd / Yoani Sánchez


In that January of 1998, at the end of John Paul II’s Mass in the Plaza of the Revolution, a fresh wind swept over the vast esplanade. My son was sitting on the shoulders of his father and the breeze swirled his hair. The Pope had already ended his homily, but still, he picked up the microphone again and dedicated several words in Latin to that naughty streak that ruffled all of us. “Spiritus spirat ubi vult et vult Cubam*” he said. We came home a while later, squeezed among thousands of people dressed in white and yellow. Since then, I have the feeling that the gale has not stopped beating on us, that this gust has blown across the island, shaking all our lives.

Benedict still has yet arrived Cuba and already part of this whirlwind is agitating us. Among the Catholic faithful joy is seen for the papal visit, and expectations that this will contribute to widening the role of the Church in our society. For those who had to keep their crucifixes hidden for decades for fear of radical atheism, the gradual elimination of religious intolerance comes as a relief. That Masses have already been broadcast on official television, and processions through the streets carrying the image of the Virgin of Charity are permitted, to many seem sufficient ground gained. However, for every minute in the mass media achieved by the Church hierarchy and every word exchanged with the government at the negotiating table, there has been a corresponding share of loss and defeat. Because, let’s not fool ourselves, the clandestine nature of the catacombs is more consistent with the discourse of Christ than is the comfortable proximity to the throne.

Less than 24 hours before the Pope arrives in Cuba, the script of his stay among us is already written, and not precisely by the delegation from the Vatican. Raul’s government has undertaken an “ideological cleansing” to prevent activists, dissidents, opponents, independent journalists, alternative bloggers and other malcontents from even reaching the plazas where His Holiness will speak. Threats to not leave their homes, disproportionate operations, arrests, cut telephone lines, people deported from the East of the country to prevent their being in Antonio Maceo Plaza this coming Monday. A roundup of intransigence that recalls those times of ripped scapulars, and cassocks spit upon by the fanatic sons of a Revolution that declared itself materialistic and dialectic. It is true they no longer chase after rosaries, but they continue to relentlessly pursue opinions. Now, having a picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus will not cost anyone their job, but to believe that a free Cuba is possible is to be made to suffer the stigmatization and the Calvary. We can now pray out loud, but to criticize the government is still a sin, blasphemy.

It now remains in the hands and voice of Benedict XVI whether to allow his visit to be hijacked by the intentions of a Party that remains committed to the Marxist-Leninist doctrine. In his eyes is the ability to notice that among the faithful gathered in the plazas numerous sheep of the Cuban herd have been prevented from reaching even the vicinity of his staff. In his ears is the decision to hear other voices beyond the official or the strictly pastoral With that ancient wisdom that the Church calls on before every obstacle, the Pope should know that on this visit a part of the presence and influence of the Catholic faith in the national future is decided. In his hands, in his voice, in his ears, it is left, then, to confirm to us that he understands the transcendence of this moment.

It may happen that a playful wind escapes control, mocks the political police and blows over the multitude. A free breeze in a gagged country that brings even the papal eardrums themselves its vibrations, the phrases that we can only whisper.

*Translator’s note:
At the end of his homily Pope John Paul II added some extemporaneous words: This wind today is very significant because wind symbolizes the Holy Spirit.
“Spiritus spirat ubi vult; Spiritus vult spirare in Cuba”. My last words are in Latin, because Cuba also has a Latin tradition: Latin America, Latin Cuba, Latin language! “Spiritus spirat ubi vult et vult Cubam”! Goodbye.
The Latin, roughly, means: The spirit spreads wherever it wants; it wants to spread in Cuba… The spirit spreads
wherever it wants and to Cuba.