Cuba and the Vatican – the Miracle that Never Arrives
Cuba and the Vatican: the Miracle that Never Arrives / Miriam Celaya
Posted on July 19, 2015
Cubans will continue to leave for places where they believe God has
placed his hand beyond the intervention of his Holiness
Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 7 July 2015 — It’s been 17 years since a
head of Vatican State visited the Island for the first time. John Paul
II arrived in Cuba in 1998, preceded by his well-deserved reputation. He
had played an important role in the Polish transition – his native
country — where democracy was finally achieved after decades of
subordination to Soviet communism.
Such credentials of the Pilgrim Pope aroused expectations among many
Cubans still being hit by the deepest economic crisis in its history,
and also hopeful about the possibility of an eventual transition derived
from some “easing” of the rigid centralism of the economy and politics
in the Island. They reasonably assumed that after so many shortages and
scraping out a living, all that was left was for things to improve. In
addition, it was unusual for a pope to honor us with his presence.
National vanity reached unprecedented levels, and optimists of the day
hoped that Jozef Wojtyla’s appeal would positively influence the
goodwill of the Cuban government towards openness.
For even more reverie, the discourse of John Paul II before a square
filled with a mixture of the faithful and the dilettante, and facing Che
Guevara’s gigantic image, made an overt reference to the need to break
the isolation endured by Cubans as a consequence of our political
system: “Open Cuba to the world”, he said in his inspired homily to the
delirious crowd listening, captivated and hopeful, as if, just by the
Pope’s suggestion, the miracle of freedom and democracy for Cuba were to
happen by osmosis.
The crowd, however, had their own reasons to believe in miracles. All in
all, the government, which barely a decade before the Pope’s arrival had
proclaimed itself as communist and atheist and had harassed the faithful
of any religious denomination for 30 years, marginalizing and excluding
them in what was a crusade in reverse — against the faithful to God —
had carried out the spell from circulating the most intense hatred of
everything that represented religion to legitimizing all faiths, and
even blessing the entry of the religious into the ranks of the Communist
Party. And it had accomplished this without gradations, without raising
suspicion and, most importantly, without anyone asking for an
explanation, since one of the most ineffable native virtues consists of
confusing justice with amnesia.
Without a doubt, placing Marx and God on the same altar was the
Revolution’s spiritual contribution that is yet to be properly
recognized. Thus, a new specimen in the socialist fauna was born: the
mystical Communist. Suddenly, being a believer became almost a stylish
ornament. Christian crucifixes and Santería necklaces of African
heritage proliferated happily among us, often mixed together as
naturally as if they had never been banned, as if dozens of young
Christians had not been shot at the La Cabaña Fortress, the
concentration camps known as Military Units to Aid Production (UMAP) had
never existed, or as if the religious spirituality that had always been
an essential part of the national culture had not been deeply hurt.
When John Paul II honored us with his presence, we were such a
democratically religious country that Monsignor Carlos Manuel de
Céspedes himself confessed to having Santería fetishes behind his door.
And what about our Sinner-in-Chief, who personally welcomed the Holy
Father and received his blessing from the Pope and from God, though he
skipped confession in the process.
Nevertheless, the overall balance of the visit of John Paul II was
positive, especially for the Cuban Catholic Church, which gained new
social spaces, experienced a discreet vivacity and even founded
magazines. Though their circulation is not large, these magazines are
tolerated by the government and enjoy popular recognition. In the
process we also recovered Christmas and the local clergy was granted
permission for Our Lady of Charity to take a brief outing – in the
manner of a procession — every September.
Since then, the world opened slightly to Cuba, though after Wojtyla’s
departure, and to date, most Cubans continue locked up in this
Island-jail without democratic freedoms and without the possibility to
fully exercise of their rights.
The second Papal visit was in 2012, when Joseph Ratzinger, as Pope,
reviewed the congregation’s membership of the hacienda in ruins, mainly
to get some concessions from the substitute sinner for the Church. This
time, the popular hopes had suffered a considerable decline, but
Benedict also delivered his homily to the faithful in a mass — in which
there were many representatives of Cuban émigrés — where he delivered
another barrage of short-range blessings and left, not without
witnessing a small turmoil by a political opponent who shouted slogans
against the government and was brutally cut down by blows from a group
of members of the national Red Cross, while around them the lambs of the
flock remained undaunted, without even issuing a bleating.
Now it is the charismatic Pope Francis’s turn. He will come to Cuba this
controversial 2015 with enviable credentials. If it were not enough that
he is a Latin American, that he took part in the inspiration of the
Liberation Theology, that he’s carrying out a fierce onslaught against
corruption within the Vatican itself, or that he demonstrates the
austerity and humility of the saint he choose for his Papal name, he
enjoys the extraordinary merit of being a mediator in the current
rapprochement between the governments of Cuba and the United States,
thus helping to end the half century of hostility that has defined Cuban
political and national life.
With such curriculum, coupled with such a resounding inspiring capacity
that even the General-President in his recent meeting with the Pope
experienced a kind of epiphany and promised to “go back to praying” —
which shows that a metamorphosis from devout to Cuban Communist Party
militant can be reversed — one would expect an avalanche of expectations
among Cubans before the imminent visit. However, this is not what is
seen on the streets.
The momentary wave of hope that uplifted Cuba with the December 17th
announcement has faded with the absence of changes, though we no longer
have an enemy at our doorstep. And Pope Francis will arrive in the midst
of that feeling of apathy. He will arrive in a timely manner, before our
emigration ends up emptying the entire Island. Because those who were
very young when John Paul II visited have become adults, and many have
fled Cuba. The dreams of prosperity and freedoms have crashed against
the rampart of government inaction, and the cryptic speeches of the
representatives of God are no longer enough to raise a new capital of
faith. Very few here believe in Papal blessings.
After all, the Vatican is also a State, with its own government, policy,
and interests. And — with apologies to the faithful — how could our
hopes for freedoms interest those who, at least de jure, pin their
greatest aspirations on the kingdom of heaven and not in the reality of
earth? We have been numbed by the words of false prophets too often to
place our expectations in another head of state. After 17 years since
John Paul II set foot on Cuban soil, we are still not feeling the
effects of his praises. Nobody –except the most obstinate dreamers —
expects Francis to make miracles to effect the urgent changes Cuba requires.
Just in case, tens of thousands of Cubans still choose each year to seek
blessings at their own risk, and are leaving for places where they
believe God has placed his hand without the help of our Holiness at the
Vatican. And this is the way it will remain, at least while the
olive-green hell continues to dictate the guidelines in this damned Island.
Source: Cuba and the Vatican: the Miracle that Never Arrives / Miriam
Celaya | Translating Cuba –