Feature

A papal visit to Cuba

Pope Benedict XVI spent six days visiting Mexico and Cuba.

Pope Benedict XVI spent six days visiting Mexico and Cuba this week, seeking to shore up the Catholic Church’s influence in one of Latin America’s most Catholic countries, and to appeal to potential worshippers in one of its least. In Mexico, where the church has been rocked by a sex-abuse scandal and is losing followers to evangelical Protestant denominations, huge crowds still turned out to see the 84-year-old pontiff, who condemned the country’s endemic drug violence and corruption. Before arriving in Cuba, Pope Benedict said that communism “no longer corresponds to reality.” But he later met with Fidel and Raúl Castro and declined to meet with political dissidents, several dozen of whom were detained prior to his visit. “Cuba and the world need change,” he said at Mass this week in Havana’s Revolution Square. In couched language, he called on Cuba’s leaders to allow Cubans to pursue “authentic freedom.”

We Cubans are simply too cynical to be enthusiastic about this papal visit, said Yoani Sánchez in ForeignPolicy.com. We remember when the charismatic Pope John Paul II visited here in 1998, and “inspired us to hope” with his full-throated calls for freedom. Since then, what has changed? Depressingly little, even as the church’s role in our society has grown.

That’s part of a quiet “quid pro quo” with the Castros, said John Paul Rathbone in the Financial Times. The Cuban church, led by the “politically astute” Cardinal Jaime Ortega, does plenty of good, negotiating the release of dozens of political prisoners in 2010 and challenging the government to increase economic freedoms. But in exchange, the church largely “abstains from pushing openly” for political reform. That strategy has left many Cuban Catholics wondering “whose side” the church is on, said Mary Anastasia O’Grady in The Wall Street Journal. Why cozy up to a repressive regime that continues to make life “hell for the population”? When “the pope snubs the marginalized and schmoozes with the powerful,” he does little to enhance Catholicism’s standing in Cuba.

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