Politics & Policy

To Proclaim Liberty to the Captives

A letter to the Holy Father on his visit to Cuba.

Most Holy Father:

I’m writing to thank you for your upcoming visit to Cuba. It is very heartening to know that you will be visiting eleven million prisoners. After all, that whole island is a prison, and all of its inhabitants prisoners.

I write not only as a Cuban but as one of your flock and as a scholar. The professorship I hold here at Yale University — named after Yale’s first Catholic chaplain — is the chair in Catholic studies. Oddly enough, many at this very secular university think that I am your nuncio and in constant contact with you, simply because I hold the Catholic chair.

So, I am now finally doing what they think I often do, writing to you.

All of the imprisoned in Cuba need your visit, desperately. Your physical presence will do much to uplift their spirits, and give them a glimpse of the world beyond their salt-water prison walls, perhaps even a glimmer of the kingdom of heaven itself, especially when you celebrate the holy sacrifice of the Mass and Christ is made present among them.

You will have to meet with the tyrants, jailers, and executioners, of course. That is inevitable. Not much has changed since Our Lord said “See, I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.” The tyrants and their henchmen will probably attend Mass, as they did when your predecessor the Venerable John Paul II visited the island some years ago.

These men need you too, in their own twisted way. They hope your visit will lend them an aura of legitimacy, fatten their coffers, and fool the world into thinking that they are not tyrants after all.

Many of your predecessors have dealt with such men, under worse circumstances. We Cubans know that those will not be easy moments for you. But our prayers will accompany every step you take, and every handshake too. And we are confident that the Holy Spirit will help you deal with these wolves as Our Lord Jesus Christ advised nearly two thousand years ago, when he told his disciples to be “as cunning as serpents yet as innocent as doves.”

I have but one request: please meet with the Ladies in White while you are in Cuba. They have asked for this themselves, through your nuncio Monsignor Bruno Musaro, with whom they met a few weeks ago. Bless them with your presence, please, Most Holy Father. They are brave beyond belief; but, subjected as they are to constant physical and mental abuse, and to the constant threat of imprisonment or death, they are in dire need of your blessing.

As you well know, they are often attacked and beaten and prevented from attending church; sometimes they’ve even been attacked inside churches. They are living out the gospel, at a high cost, laying their lives down for their brethren. Like the Canaanite woman who cried out to Jesus, “Lord, help me!” or the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’s robe in hope of a cure, they are reaching out, full of faith, begging against all odds. In an island where everyone has been turned into a beggar, they beg for the rarest and most precious gift of all: your presence.

And, oh, what a sight that would be for all the world to see! You and the Ladies in White together. What a jolt to the senses: an image so unexpected, it might restore sight to those blinded by hate, perhaps, or stem the flow of blood that has stained that beautiful prison island for far too long. It might even make demons flee, too.

Your power as Vicar of Christ is unique. You command the world’s attention. You serve as the world’s conscience. Your public acknowledgment of the Ladies in White could change the course of history. They pray for that; we all pray for it too, along with them. I, a beggar, driven from my homeland 50 years ago, join the bold Ladies in begging. We beg like the blind man who would not stop crying out to Jesus and yelled all the louder when told to shut up.

And we beg in the name of Jesus, hoping you will hear our voices above the din made by those who want us not to be seen or heard.

— Carlos Eire is the is the T. Lawrason Riggs Professor of History and Religious Studies at Yale University. His memoir, Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy, won the National Book Award in 2003.

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