Some reports on Pope Francis’s visit to Cuba have pointed to the suppression of dissidents by the Castro regime during the visit as a sign that he is not addressing the root cause of the Cuban crisis. I disagree. I believe that the visit points to the next Cuban revolution in the only lasting way in which this oppression will come to an end. It will be accomplished by the recovery of the Christian memory and a return and renewal of the Christian faith.
Francis is a missionary pope. He has evangelized from the moment he stepped out onto that balcony on Wednesday, March 13, 2013. His Apostolic Exhortation The Gospel of Joy (Evangelii Gaudium) is aptly subtitled the “proclamation of the gospel in today’s world.” His apostolic visit to Cuba is a missionary journey — but the gospel he is preaching is a profoundly revolutionary message.
Raul and Fidel
When Francis arrived at the airport in Havana, : spoke first. He extolled the Cuban socialist state. He even claimed the regime has respected human rights, including religious freedom. Francis listened with a solemn facial expression. He then explained that he had come to “bring the proclamation of the Kingdom to the existential peripheries of society” and called for a culture of encounter to replace “the forever-dead system of groups and dynasties.”
Staying close to his prepared text, he spoke extemporaneously only once. Such extemporaneous comments are common for this pope. His decision to not do so was intentional. The one comment was “the world needs reconciliation in this environment of a ‘Third World War’ by stages that we are experiencing.”
On Sunday morning Francis presided over an outdoor liturgy in Revolution Square. The backdrop was extraordinary. The image of the Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara was upstaged by the Image of Jesus Christ, the true source of liberation from oppression and the only true path to freedom. Using the gospel text from Mark (9:30-37) appointed for this Sunday in the Catholic calendar, he preached his homily in Spanish.
The gospel tells of the disciples accompanying Jesus on a journey through Galilee. He explained to them his upcoming passion and death. They had not listened because they were occupied with discussing who among them was the greatest. Jesus was aware of their discussion. Later, he spoke to them of who is the greatest in the kingdom and used a child to communicate the heart of the Christian vocation.
The Pope spoke of the “logic of love” and the “paradox of Jesus,” reminding the faithful that true service cannot be ideological but must be personal and relational. He reminded the people gathered to worship God of the power of the Resurrection of Jesus which, he said, “calls forth the seeds of a new world.” This use of the term “new world” has ancient roots. The early Christians understood the Church in that very way.
At the airport, Francis sent his greetings to the other Castro brother named Fidel. He expressed his hopes of meeting with him. He did just that on Sunday afternoon, presenting to Fidel a book and two CDs filled with the homilies and songs of Father Armando Llorente, a Jesuit priest who taught the young Fidel at Belan Jesuit Preparatory School, where Castro studied until he was sixteen years old.
Once Fidel lost his faith and succumbed to the false ideology of Marxism, he expelled the Jesuits, including the good priest. Fr. Llorente spent the remainder of his days praying for the conversion of his former student. One can only imagine what Francis did and said in this wonderful opportunity the Holy Spirit gave to him to meet with Fidel. I have decided to pray for the conversion of Fidel Castro as I continue to pray for the next Cuban revolution.
Francis then went to the Father Felix Varela Cultural Center to speak with Cuban youth. Again, Francis spoke with his action and his words. Fr. Varella was born in Cuba in 1788 and is a hero to many Cubans but a thorn in the side of the regime. An extraordinary Christian, he fought against slavery and for Cuban independence. He is a model of integrating the Christian faith in an authentic approach to social action.
The Pope asked the young Cubans, “What lies deep in your heart? Where do your hopes and aspirations lie? Are you ready to put yourself on the line for the sake of something even greater?” He shared the hope of the Gospel with the ones I believe are the future revolutionaries of Cuba. The ones who will help lead that Nation to encounter once again the only One who can bring about the new man and new woman, Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).
The Socialist Counterfeit
Marxism is a counterfeit. It promised to bring about a new man in an atheistic system by economic manipulation. Francis rejects this idea of liberation. In a column titled “Is the Pope a Socialist,” the Catholic News Agency clearly explained Francis’ rejection of this counterfeit.
This visit to Cuba was not about politics or economic theory, yet in everything he said Francis was addressing the root causes of Cuba’s suffering and offering an alternative. This is a missionary, apostolic, evangelistic and pastoral visitation intended to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the path to true human freedom. As he said in his homily: “The call to serve involves something special, to which we must be attentive. Serving others chiefly means caring for their vulnerability. Caring for the vulnerable of our families, our society, our people.” Theirs, he said,
are the suffering, fragile and downcast faces which Jesus tells us specifically to look at and which he asks us to love. With a love which takes shape in our actions and decisions. With a love which finds expression in whatever tasks we, as citizens, are called to perform. People of flesh and blood, people with individual lives and stories, and with all their frailty: these are those whom Jesus asks us to protect, to care for, to serve. Being a Christian entails promoting the dignity of our brothers and sisters, fighting for it, living for it. That is why Christians are constantly called to set aside their own wishes and desires, their pursuit of power, and to look instead to those who are most vulnerable.
This message may not look political at all, to those who don’t know the power of the gospel. Yet it paves the path to the next Cuban revolution — one that will bring the liberation and freedom Castro’s “revolution,” a revolution that took an oppressive society and turned it into a tyranny, falsely promised. Its days are numbered.
First published at The STREAM
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