Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Pope Francis in Cuba--A Powerful, But Subtle, Message

   I am spending my last days at San Pedro Parish in the Florida Keys.  About 100 miles from where I sit Pope Francis is visiting the island nation of Cuba, the third pope to do so.

   Because of spending four years in Hialeah, FL, often called "North Cuba" I have several friends who left that nation when Fidel Castro took over, or shortly thereafter.  

   Most of them have very strong anti-Castro feelings but are cautiously optimistic about this papal visit to their homeland.  The mere fact that the previous two papal visits have brought improved conditions for Catholics and other Christians is a good sign.   The opening of diplomatic relations with our country is another.  Nonetheless, there is a long way to go.

   Some people have expressed the opinion that the pope should have spoken more strongly about human rights and freedom.  Regarding this one news commentator suggested that because the pope is not only a religious leader, but a head of state, that his words needed to be careful.  Also it is likely that in his private meeting with president Raul Castro those issues came up.

   I would like to point out here three things that were very significant.

   1.)  In his homily at the opening Mass in Havana Pope Francis, basing his words on the message of service found in that Sunday's Gospel text from Mark, reminded the people that we are called to serve people and not ideologies.  That, to me, was the most succinct criticism of Marxism that I have ever heard.  It was said in a way that was memorable and likely to stick in the minds of the millions who heard it spoken in person or on TV and social media.  Will it subtly stir people to action? Only time will tell.

  2.)  In a similar vein, in his talk to the youth of Cuba, Pope Francis called on religious orders to reach out to those who were seen as "useless".  Likewise he called on young people to realize that no one was useless and that all deserved dignity and respect (My paraphrase of the pope's words). Under Marxist thinking those who cannot work and contribute to society are considered "useless" and they are neglected.  Again, his holiness was planting a seed in the minds of many.

  3.) In his brief visit with  Fidel Castro the pope gave him a copy of a book written by one of Castro's Jesuit high school teachers, as well as some other works on spirituality.  I'm sure that this gesture had to have given Mr. Castro something to think about.

   These three actions, and probably several others, were subtle and were carefully chosen.  I think that the first two especially, have a chance to bear much fruit.

   I will write next week at the conclusion of Pope Francis's trip to our country.  Although we are blessed with freedoms that Cubans do not have, I think that the most powerful things that come from his visit here may be equally as subtle.

   Finally, a request.  Do not, I repeat, DO NOT, interpret anything the pope says to us through the lenses of the political left or right.   Hopefully he will both support and challenge both sides.


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