Monday, March 26, 2012

POPE JOHN PAUL II’S VISIT TO CUBA --- A lesson to the world

By Dalia González del


AS the Popemobile moved along

Havana’s wide avenues lined with enthusiastic people,

chants of "You can feel it, you can feel it, the

Pope is here with us," and "Juan Pablo, friend, Cuba

is with you," could be heard.

Current Vatican Secretary of State

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, affirmed in

his book

cuore grande, Omaggio a Giovanni Paolo

II that the Pope confided in him that

possibly no head of state had so

profoundly prepared for the visit of a


From January 21 through 25, 1998,

Cuba gave the world a lesson, one of many. One did

not have to be religious to feel the intensity of

the encounter between the Cuban people and the

Supreme Pontiff.

Cuba’s enemies wanted to celebrate.

But the idea of an alleged Apocalypse presented by

the foreign media ceded to the image of a people who

listened with affection and respect to his message.

Those five days did not change the history of Cuba,

they enriched it.

Cardinal Roger Eychegaray, then

president of the Justice and Peace Pontifical

Commission, stated in an interview with Granma,

"Rarely has a Papal visit aroused such universal

interest and infused in his diverse interlocutors a

responsibility so great that it commits all of one

and everyone."

Pope John Paul II defined a central

theme in each one of the four masses he gave. In

Santa Clara he dedicated his sermon to the family;

in Camagüey to youth, and in Santiago de Cuba to the


In the José Martí Plaza de la

Revolución he devoted his reflections to the role of

laypersons in the Church.


They already knew each other. They

had met in the Vatican on November 19, 1996.

Thousands of journalists, camera crews, reporters

for various foreign television and press networks,

transmitted images of a Pope and a Communist leader

which swept aside ill-intentioned commentaries and

their alleged differences with the second shaking of


Believers and non-believers showed

hospitality and respect toward the Holy

Father during his visit to Cuba.

Fidel Castro received the Pope and

bade him farewell at José Martí International

Airport, and met with him privately in the Palace of

the Revolution. He also accompanied John Paul II in

the encounter with cultural figures and during the

mass in Plaza de la Revolución.

"Fidel was the President who gave

the best attention to Pope John Paul II," Cardinal

Tarcisio Bertone, current Vatican Secretary of State,

affirmed years later in his book Un cuore grande,

Omaggio a Giovanni Paolo II
. "Fidel showed

affection for the Pope, who was already ill, and

John Paul II confided to me that possibly no head of

state had so profoundly prepared for the visit of a

Pontiff (...). Fidel had read the encyclicals and

principal speeches of John Paul II and even some of

his poems."


The Supreme Pontiff’s visit to Cuba

took place in the upheavals of the 1990s. The

disappearance of socialism in Eastern Europe and the

USSR had unleashed great euphoria within the U.S.

government and among counterrevolutionary groups in

Miami. It was predicted that the Cuban Revolution

would collapse in a matter of days or weeks. Cuban

exiles began to make political moves to organize a

new government.

They themselves described John Paul

II as a kind of exterminating angel of socialism, as

a man whose visit would be prejudicial to the

national social project.

The people greet His Holiness John

Paul II in Havana’s Plaza de la


(Photo: Ahmed Velásquez)

With his usual clarity of vision,

Fidel had observed that. "I see so many illusions

being created in desperation, that the Pope’s visit

will be somewhat tragic for the Cuban Revolution, a

fiery sword which is going to liquidate socialism

and communism in Cuba (...). They do not know the

Pope, they do not know him (...). They are

underestimating his intelligence, underestimating

his character, underestimating his thinking."

For that reason, as if in response

to those deluding themselves, Fidel stated at the

farewell to the Holy Father, "I think we have given

a good example to the world: you, in visiting what

certain people chose to call the last bastion of

communism; we, in receiving the religious leader to

whom they wanted to attribute the responsibility of

having destroyed socialism in Europe. And there were

those prophesying apocalyptical events. Some even

dreamed of them."

Unfortunately for those dreamers,

Cuba demonstrated to the world that, despite

erroneous interpretations, socialism can be

reconciled with religious faith. Fidel confirmed

that upon receiving the Pope. "There will not be any

country better prepared to understand your

felicitous idea, as we understand it and which is so

similar to what we preach, that equitable

distribution of wealth and solidarity among human

beings and peoples must be globalized."


Fidel recalled the injustices being

committed against the country. "Cuba, your Holiness,

is currently standing up to the strongest power in

history like a new David, a thousand times smaller,

who in the same spirit of biblical times, is

fighting to survive against a gigantic Goliath of

the nuclear age who is trying to prevent our

development by forcing us to surrender through

sickness and hunger. If that story had not been

written then, it would have had to have been written

today. This monstrous crime cannot be ignored or

excuses given for it."

For that reason, it was gratifying

to hear the leader of the Catholic Church condemn

the U.S. blockade of Cuba, describing it as

"restrictive economic measures imposed from outside

of the country, unjust and ethically unacceptable."

At the same time he criticized

neoliberalism, then in its apogee. "Economically

unsustainable programs are being imposed on nations,

as a condition of receiving more aid and the

exaggerated enrichment of a few at the cost of the

impoverishment of many can be confirmed."



"Dear Cubans, upon leaving this

beloved land, I am taking with me a lasting

impression of these days and great confidence in the

future of your homeland," John Paul II affirmed in

his farewell address.

"I have experienced full and moving

events with the people of God, on a pilgrimage

through the beautiful land of Cuba, which has left a

profound impression on me. I will take with me the

memory of the faces of so many people whom I have

met during the last few days. I am grateful for your

cordial hospitality, a genuine expression of the

Cuban soul."

His words were in response to all

the affection shown him by the Cuban population.

Everyone – believers and non-believers – gave the

Pope a massive demonstration of hospitality and


Havana. March 22, 2012