Preparing For a Visit (2)

by Andrew Stuttaford

Via the Miami Herald, more on the Pope’s upcoming visit to Cuba:

Nearly 750 Cuban activists have signed a letter to Pope Benedict XVI warning that his planned visit to Cuba will “send a message to the oppressors that they can continue” to abuse Catholic opponents, dissidents reported Thursday.

 “We would be very happy to receive you in our country, if the message of faith, love and hope that you could bring us also would serve to halt the repression against those who want to go to church,” the letter said.

 It did not directly urge the pontiff to cancel his planned March 26-28 visit to Havana and Santiago de Cuba, but added, “May the Holy Trinity illuminate your mind so that you can make a correct decision.”

The letter was the latest word from those Cuban dissidents who are concerned that the pontiff’s visit will only legitimize Raúl Castro’s government and do little or nothing to improve human rights on the communist-ruled island…

Among the signers were some of Cuba’s best-known dissidents, such as Roque, Guillermo Fariñas, Sara Martha Fonseca, Vladimiro Roca, Jorge Luis “Antunez” García Pérez and his wife, Iris Tamara Perez Aguilar.  Other dissidents have cautiously welcomed the papal visit as a ray of hope for the Cuban people and the Catholic church.  Not signing the letter were Catholic activists Oswaldo Payá and Dagoberto Valdés, Ladies in White leader Bertha Soler and her husband, former political prisoner Angel Moya, and dissident Oscar Elias  Biscet. Roque said that she has been asking for an interview with the Vatican’s diplomatic envoy in Havana, Msgr. Bruno Musaro, for the past month to hand over the letter but has received no reply.

 The letter argued that since abuses against Catholics only increased after the papal visit was announced, Benedict’s presence in Cuba “would be like sending a message to the oppressors that they can continue to do whatever they want, that the church will allow it.”

 It cited three cases in which government-organized mobs harassed or threatened dissidents who had gathered in churches, including one Feb. 19 in which the archbishop of Santiago de Cuba had to intervene to protect 14 Ladies in White surrounded at the Our Lady of Charity shrine in El Cobre.

 “One should add that on top of all that, some of the faithful are visited by the political police between Friday and Saturday of each week, to be warned that they will not be allowed to attend mass — and indeed they are arrested on Sunday,” the letter added.

Over at the Wall Street Journal, Mary Anastasia O’Grady piles on:

Cuban dissidents had hoped the pope’s visit would help them expose the twisted jailors who run the island prison. So what are we to make of the fact that the pontiff will not be meeting with any of the island’s Christian human-rights advocates? These communicants have endured unspeakable acts of state terror to be witnesses to the faith. They have earned papal recognition. Disappointment doesn’t begin to describe their dashed hopes….

Berta Soler—Mr. Moya’s wife and the spokeswoman for the Ladies in White, who since 2003 have withstood beatings, arrests and harassment by the regime to attend Mass as a group and protest political imprisonments—has gone even further. She delivered, through the papal nuncio in Havana, a formal request from the Ladies to see the pope, “even for one minute.”

Numerous other Christians on the island have made similar requests…Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega’s office told the Ladies in White that the pope’s schedule is too tight…

…In case all this is not enough to destroy Cuban confidence in the pope as an ally, the government newspaper Granma said this in an editorial last week: “We are sure that His Holiness will affectionately treasure the memory of this Caribbean Island, which values his visit as a manifestation of trust and a renewed expression of the excellent and uninterrupted relations between the Holy See and Cuba.”

All Cubans know that the “revolution” persecuted the faithful. They were sent before firing squads or to the dungeons, Catholic schools and churches were shuttered, and the island was declared an atheist paradise. 

But now Fidel is reminding Cubans that relations were never broken with Rome and he is claiming that all the while he has gotten on fabulously with the pope. Will Pope Benedict, who is by no means a Castro sympathizer, allow the regime to get away with this?

Not if he insists on meeting some of Cuba’s heroic dissidents. A few fine words on freedom are not enough. Not at this point.