The Pope’s Cuba Gamble
Ignoring those who have suffered for their faith may win some favor for the Church, but it risks alienating the island’s faithful.
As readers of this blog know, the Ladies in White have requested to meet with the Pope during his visit to Cuba,
Numerous other Christians on the island have made similar requests. From the U.S., Yale Prof. Carlos Eire wrote a powerful plea on behalf of the Ladies for National Review Online on March 5: “Like the Canaanite woman who cried out to Jesus, ‘Lord, help me!’ or the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’s robe in hope of a cure, they are reaching out, full of faith, begging against all odds. In an island where everyone has been turned into a beggar, they beg for the rarest and most precious gift of all: your presence.” Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega’s office told the Ladies in White that the pope’s schedule is too tight.
Some dissidents wonder whose side the cardinal is on. In recent years he was instrumental in helping the regime deport scores of political prisoners who had become a liability for the regime’s image. Though he recently offered a Mass for ailing Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chávez, Ms. Soler’s request for a Mass for deceased dissidents has gone unanswered.
The cardinal has said that the purpose of the trip is “a new evangelization” and of course spreading the gospel is the Lord’s work. But it is hard to see how converts will be won if the pope snubs the marginalized and schmoozes with the powerful.
On Thursday, 13 Christians holed up inside Our Lady of Charity of Cobre church in Havana to demand that the pope hear their grievances against the regime were forcibly removed by police, reportedly at the request of Cardinal Ortega. Then on Friday the Vatican announced that if Fidel Castro wants to meet, “the pope will be available.”
Unless he has something up his sleeve, the visit may turn out to be a gross miscalculation. Cubans know that they are hostages in their own country. If the pope is perceived as going along with this big lie, it will only heighten the sense of betrayal toward Cardinal Ortega and it will do nothing to strengthen the Church in Cuba.
Here is the text of Carlos Eire’s letter, which I posted a couple of weeks ago before the blog crashed,
His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI 27 February 2012
00120 Vatican City
Most Holy Father:
I’m writing to thank you for your upcoming visit to Cuba. It is very heartening to know that you will be visiting eleven million prisoners. After all, that whole island is a prison, and all of its inhabitants prisoners.
I write not only as a Cuban but as one of your flock and as a scholar. The professorship I hold here at Yale University – named after Yale’s first Catholic chaplain – is the chair in Catholic studies. Oddly enough, many at this very secular university think that I am your nuncio and in constant contact with you, simply because I hold the Catholic chair.
So, I am now finally doing what they think I often do, writing to you.
All of the imprisoned in Cuba need your visit, desperately. Your physical presence will do much to uplift their spirits, and give them a glimpse of the world beyond their salt-water prison walls, perhaps even a glimmer of The Kingdom of Heaven itself, especially when you celebrate the holy sacrifice of the Mass and Christ is made present among them.
You will have to meet with the tyrants, jailers, and executioners, of course. That is inevitable. Not much has changed since Our Lord said “See, I am sending you out like sheep among wolves,” The tyrants and their henchmen will probably attend Mass, as they did when your predecessor the Venerable John Paul II visited the island some years ago.
These men need you too, in their own twisted way. They hope your visit will lend them an aura of legitimacy, fatten their coffers, and fool the world into thinking that they are not tyrants after all.
Many of your predecessors have dealt with such men, under worse circumstances. We Cubans know that those will not be easy moments for you. But our prayers will accompany every step you take, and every handshake too. And we are confident that the Holy Spirit will help you deal with these wolves as Our Lord Jesus Christ advised nearly two thousand years ago, when he told his disciples to be “as cunning as serpents yet as innocent as doves.”
I have but one request: please meet with the Ladies in White while you are in Cuba. They have asked for this themselves, through your nuncio Monsignor Bruno Musaro, with whom they met a few weeks ago. Bless them with your presence, please, Most Holy Father. They are brave beyond belief; but, subjected as they are to constant physical and mental abuse, and to the constant threat of imprisonment or death, they are in dire need of your blessing.
As you well know, they are often attacked and beaten and prevented from attending church; sometimes they’ve even been attacked inside churches. They are living out the gospel, at a high cost, laying their lives down for their brethren. Like the Canaanite woman who cried out to Jesus, ‘Lord, help me!’ or the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’s robe in hope of a cure, they are reaching out, full of faith, begging against all odds. In an island where everyone has been turned into a beggar, they beg for the rarest and most precious gift of all: your presence.
And, oh, what a sight that would be for all the world to see! You and the Ladies in White together. What a jolt to the senses: an image so unexpected, it might restore sight to those blinded by hate, perhaps, or stem the flow of blood that has stained that beautiful prison island for far too long. It might even make demons flee, too.
Your power as Vicar of Christ is unique. You command the world’s attention. You serve as the world’s conscience. Your public acknowledgment of the Ladies in White could change the course of history. They pray for that; we all pray for it too, along with them. I, a beggar, driven from my homeland fifty years ago, join the bold Ladies in begging. We beg like the blind man who would not stop crying out to Jesus and yelled all the louder when told to shut up.
And we beg in the name of Jesus, hoping you will hear our voices above the din made by those who want us not to be seen or heard.
Humbly yours, in Christ,
Carlos M. N. Eire
T. Lawrason Riggs Professor of History and Religious Studies
My translation, which was sent to the Ladies in White for them to read in Spanish,