We Have a Pope / Fernando Dámaso

Photo: Rebeca

The visit to Cuba of Pope Benedict XVI has raised conflicting opinions, both outside and inside the country. The foundations of these have been given by the Catholic and government authorities themselves, with some unfortunate statements prior to the trip. This has meant that there are those who approve it and those who reject it, each group providing the arguments it considers essential.

I have always defended friendly and sincere dialogue between parties in conflict, as a smarter and less traumatic way to find solutions. I think that, in principle, we should not repudiate a dialogue between Church and State, at the highest level; it requires a second step of rapprochement between the two (the first was during the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1998). Another thing, the most important, is the content of this dialog. No Pope works miracles and we should not wait for them: we are all Cubans who, ultimately, must solve our problems.

Both the Church and the Cuban State are burdened with numerous outstanding bills which, in one way or another, have affected people for more than fifty years. It is no secret that, after shedding the scapulars, crucifixes and medals of the Virgin of Charity they carried with them during the insurrection, the new rulers adopted atheism as state policy, organizing or facilitating attacks against the Catholic religion, mainly, and supporting other religions and manifestations.

Religious activities (church services, processions, etc.) were mined from within by introducing into them people from outside the Church, who propitiated violence, forcing their suspension. They intervened and nationalized all Catholic schools, forcing students to be educated as atheists, when it was neither their desire nor that of their parents and guardians.

There was also the appropriation of spiritual retreat centers, seminaries, convents and even church buildings, whose premises were devoted to other purposes, both civilian and military. They prohibited the dissemination of Catholic magazines, and shut down radio and television programs with the same content.

On the list of questions you had to answer to get access to education and work, they included the absurd question: Do you profess a religion? The answer determined the acceptance or otherwise of the applicant.

Many projects of life, of honest and talented people, were destroyed by this inhuman practice, as they were no longer considered reliable. Given the officially orchestrated public outrage against all Catholic citizens, more by fear than by conviction, people failed to marry in the Church, to baptize their children, to attend Mass or Communion, and even to receive the last rites, leaving the churches empty.

It went as far as the aberration of removing crucifixes and religious medals worn around the neck, and removing and destroying or hiding the pictures of the Sacred Heart and similar images, common in any Cuban household. These realities are hard to hide and to erase, even when manipulating and rewriting history, especially when those responsible for them are the same ones who remain in power.

In is in this situation, precisely, that lies the difficulty of establishing the content of the dialogue: it could go the way of the problems that plague Cubans in general, the particular problems of the Church and the Government, or be diluted in the universal issues, more theoretical than practical, so popular in recent times. One could also pass through a mixture of all. The results and their significance will depend on the roads taken.

I imagine that, in one way or another, both the Church and the Government will try to get the maximum advantage for their particular interests: one to widen its influence and the other to keep its influence, trying not to give up their principles, now secular and not atheist, after the readjustment made some time ago.

It is desirable that Cuba and Cubans be the main winners. This would justify the Pope’s visit and would be a sign of hope for the nation.

March 24 2012