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.
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
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
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.
REENCOUNTER WITH FIDEL
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
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
A LESSON TO THE WORLD
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
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.
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."
AGAINST THE BLOCKADE
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."
MESSAGES OF ENCOURAGEMENT AND
"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
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