On Sunday, 20th September, Pope Francis, during his 4-day visit to Cuba, met with Cuban President Raul Castro and his brother and predecessor Fidel Castro, following his successful attempt to restart diplomatic ties between Cuba and the United States. This major development has led many Cubans to hope for greater tourism and investment opportunities in a country marred by weak economic growth.
The Pope’s visit also comes amidst an effort to bolster the freedom of the Catholic Church in Cuba for having the freedom and autonomy to provide religious services and charitable work to its people. Cuba has been an important ground for the communist ideology mainly due to revolutionary icons Che Guevara and Castro brothers Fidel and Raul, who have both ruled the country for more than 5 decades.
A papal Mass was celebrated in Havana’s Revolution Square plaza, the place which was once a popular spot for many Cubans to congregate and listen to the fiery speeches of their communist leader and hero, Fidel Castro. The very plaza of Revolution Square is also where Pope John Paul II made a speech 17 years ago and became the first pope to visit the Island. His speech was a casual critique of capitalism by emphasizing the problem of the rich growing richer at the expense of the poor. Pope Francis, however, focused less on international politics and gave more importance to individuals.
Standing beside a portrait of communist revolutionary, Che Guevara, the Pope addressed a number of onlookers including the President of Cuba, Raul Castro and President of Argentina, Cristina Kirchner, using subtle words against the communist ideology:
“Service is never ideological, for we don’t serve ideas, we serve people. Don’t neglect them for plans which can be seductive but are unconcerned about the face of the person beside you. Let us not forget the Good News we have heard today: the importance of a people, a nation and the importance of individuals, which is always based on how they seek to serve their vulnerable brothers and sisters.”
He also said:
“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. All of us are asked, indeed urged, by Jesus to care for one another out of love…without looking to one side or the other to see what our neighbor is doing, or not doing.”
The reestablishment of diplomatic ties after 53 years between United States and Cuba in 2014, for which the Vatican played a significant role, had been met with both countries opening embassies in Havana and Washington. Pope Francis’ visit to the country will also be an important milestone in granting more independence to the Catholic Church in the country, following years of being marginalized under Castro’s communist rule.
On Monday, the Pope also visited Santiago, Cuba’s second largest city, where the shrine of the Virgin of Charity is located.