Cuba will experience a five-day visit by Pope John Paul II this week in his first visit to the island. Thrust into the world spotlight, Cuba may shine or stumble. The Pope potentially could link socialist and Christian ideals – offering Castro’s government a new link to legitimacy. Or the Pope could be extraordinary, publicly critical of oppressive Marxism.
Most importantly, the Pope may bring with him spiritual lift for Cuban Catholics and a shot of energy for a people that has suffered long in poverty.
During the Cold War, the Pope visited his native Poland several times, much to the chagrin of the communist leadership. During these visits, while he emphasized his non-involvement with Polish domestic political issues, his presence and speeches clearly demonstrated his support, both moral and spiritual, of Poles’ attempts to gain greater liberty from communism. Many credit the Pope with furthering anti-communist causes in a way no other person could. Yet all the while, he continued ministering to his followers’ spiritual needs.
The Pope’s visit has led to a quandary for some Cuban families. Some who fled Cuba are returning to see the Pope, but are leaving behind family members who refuse to set foot on Cuban soil while Castro remains in power. It no doubt will be an emotional time, as friends see each other after decades and families reunite for a short time.
The Pope is scheduled to celebrate several open air masses in which thousands of worshippers are expected. It is highly doubtful the politically- savvy Pope will remain silent on the issue of Cuba’s political system, but at the same time, he may criticize the decades-long U.S. embargo of the island. Both Castro and the Pope will use each other to further their own positions. Regardless, Cuban Catholics benefit by being able to see, hear and worship with their spiritual leader.