Pope chose subtle over blunt critique in Cuba
Analysis: Pope chose subtle over blunt critique in Cuba
Rick Jervis, USA TODAY 9:04 p.m. EDT September 23, 2015
SANTIAGO DE CUBA, Cuba — During his four-day visit to this communist-run
island that ended Tuesday, Pope Francis spoke often of respect for
Those who hoped the pope would make a clarion call for greater political
and social freedom were disappointed.
The pope’s speeches were measured in tone and the political messages
were subtle, analysts and clergy on the island said. By contrast, the
pontiff’s first speech in the USA, delivered at the White House on
Wednesday, dealt directly with hot-button U.S. political issues, such as
climate change and immigration.
In Cuba, his message was more about the church’s role in society, said
Father Luis del Castillo, a retired Catholic bishop from Uruguay who
lives in this city. Francis’ message may have been more direct in
private meetings with President Raúl Castro and ailing brother Fidel,
who relinquished power in 2008, he said.
The pope played a key role in brokering restored relations between the
United States and Cuba, something he’d like to see continue, Castillo
said. “The secret of a successful mediation is secrecy,” he said.
“Precise issues in this relationship between the two countries that are
starting to talk to each other, that will probably be discussed in private.”
It was the 78-year-old pontiff’s first visit to Cuba but the third papal
trip to the island in two decades. Pope John Paul II’s groundbreaking
visit to Cuba in 1998 was followed by a visit in 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI.
As the first Latin American pope, Francis, an Argentine, spoke in his
native Spanish, allowing him to connect more deeply with Cubans and
mingling Buenos Aires slang into some of his ornate discourses.
One of his most important speeches in Cuba came outside the Felix Varela
Institute in Old Havana to a large gathering of Cuban youth, said
Enrique Pumar, sociology chair at the Catholic University of America.
In unscripted remarks, Francis urged the youth to “dream big” and stay
united. The gathering was significant because the institute is where
the Cuban Catholic Church organizes workshops on business and economics,
Pumar said. Francis’ presence showed his support for economic freedoms
the government is slowly allowing.
The pope’s speeches should be absorbed and reflected upon later, he
said. “It’s like a good Fellini movie,” Pumar said. “You don’t think
about the movie when you’re there. You think about it after you leave
Some critics said they hoped for a more honest critique of the Castro
government from the pontiff. Anti-Castro activists who approached the
pope during Sunday’s outdoor Mass in Havana were arrested, and
dissidents invited to meet with the pope were not allowed near his
delegation — government actions unaddressed by the Vatican, said José
Daniel Ferrer, head of the Patriotic Union for Cuba, a dissident group.
More than 150 dissidents were detained or arrested across Cuba during
the pope’s trip, Ferrer said.
Compared with John Paul II’s visit, when he urged the Cuban people to
“take charge of their destiny,” Francis’ trip was a disappointment,
Ferrer said. “The Cuban people will forget this visit in a few days,” he
said in a telephone interview from Havana.
The challenges facing Cuba — from corruption to economic changes to an
eminent leadership transition — require lots of work and long-term
solutions, said del Castillo, the retired bishop. The pope’s visit
encouraged clergy and others to play a larger role in facing these
challenges, he said.
“To work on this requires time and requires what the pope has been
describing: Not to be smothered by the difficulties of the present but
to be capable of dreaming of a future Cuba,” del Castillo said.
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