The Two Faces of the American Journey
In Cuba, homage to the Castro brothers, silence over the victims of the regime, the refusal to meet with dissidents. In the United States, the exaltation of freedom against the “forms of modern tyranny.” The anguished cry of a Cuban exile.
by Sandro Magister
ROME, October 1, 2015 – Days later and with the emotional residue swept away, the journey of Pope Francis to Cuba and the United States is unveiling its real connotations. Which are political and ecclesial at once.
As a politician, Jorge Mario Bergoglio has shown himself to be capable, pragmatic, implacable at times. He presents himself to the world as the advocate of the poor, of the oppressed, of the “discarded,” and says it with actions even more than with words. He goes to the Caritas soup kitchen, meets with the homeless, visits a school for the disadvantaged, mingles with immigrants and illegals, enters a prison.
Eight of these direct contacts were on the official program of the journey, and he added even more on his own.
But mind, all of them strictly in the United States. Not even one in Cuba.
Not a word there for the thousands of Cubans swallowed up by the sea while fleeing from tyranny. No call for the release of political prisoners. No caress for their mothers, wives, sisters, arrested by the dozens so that they couldn’t even go to the pope’s Mass.
Pressed by journalists on the plane heading for Washington, Francis said no, no meeting with dissidents was planned, and he kept to the program.
And yet this was not something unthinkable from the start. A few weeks earlier, the Cuban regime had allowed American secretary of state John Kerry, visiting Cuba to reopen the embassy, to meet with roughly thirty dissidents.
One of these, the most authoritative, a Catholic, nevertheless had to hide behind the cloak of anonymity in order to write his aggrieved commentary on the pope’s visit, for the missionary agency “Asia News.” In 1998, when John Paul II went to Cuba, he had even been able to take the offerings up to the altar during the Mass in the Plaza de la Revolución, while the square resounded with rhythmic chants of “Libertad!,” a word the pope used 13 times in his homily.
This time, nothing of the kind. The Castrist police catalogued and screened everyone coming to Mass with Francis, in Havana and the other cities, and peppered the crowds with informants.
In the nine discourses he gave in Cuba, Bergoglio used the word “freedom” only once, requesting it for the Church on the island together with “all the means necessary.” He paid repeated public homage to the Castro brothers and gave a friendly and admiring account of his private conversation with Fidel.
To general astonishment, he dedicated his clearest and most direct political comments not to Cuba but to Colombia: to the secret negotiations between the Bogotà government and the leaders of the Colombian guerrillas that were underway during those same days in Havana, with Raúl Castro as host and mediator.
And the good news, that of the agreement reached after seventy years of massacres and half a million victims, came when the pope was in the United States, on the eve of his speech to the United Nations. An agreement that was immediately credited by all to him, to Francis, and to the “decisive” move of that unexpected appeal raised from Havana.
The calculated silence on freedom in Cuba was counterbalanced by the expansive praise that Bergoglio dedicated to this in the United States.
The true key political discourse of this journey to the Americas, in fact, was not the one he gave to Congress, nor the one from the tribunal of the UN, both of these tailor-made to be welcomed by all and not antagonize anyone, but the one in Philadelphia, in the place, he said, where “the Declaration of Independence stated that all men and women are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, and that governments exist to protect and defend those rights.”
Which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and therefore, he added, “our irreducible freedom in the face of every claim to absolute power” and of all those “forms of modern tyranny [that] seek to suppress religious freedom, or try to reduce it to a subculture without right to a voice in the public square.”
What a shame that in Cuba these words of his were kept in the dark.
TWO SIDE NOTES
FRANCIS’S SECRET MEETING WITH KIM DAVIS…
This became known only the day after the pope’s return to Rome. Thanks to Robert Moynihan, director of the authoritative American magazine “Inside the Vatican”
The Secret Meeting of the Papal Trip
The revelation is that on Thursday, September 24, at the nunciature in Washington, the pope met in secret with Kim Davis, the Pentecostalist county clerk in Kentucky who one month ago defied the order to issue marriage licenses for same-sex couples and went to jail for her conscientious objection.
The case has profoundly divided opinion and politics in the United States, with the Catholic Church siding with Davis.
The meeting with Francis lasted for 15 minutes. “The pope spoke in English,” Davis recounted afterward. “There was no interpreter. ‘Thank you for your courage,’ Pope Francis said to me. I said, ‘Thank you, Holy Father.’… It was an extraordinary moment. ‘Stay strong,’ he said to me… I broke into tears. I was deeply moved.”
For the whole duration of his visit to the United States, Francis kept the meeting secret. But on the return flight to Rome, questioned by Terry Moran of ABC News, he clearly stated his thoughts on the issue:
Q: Holy Father, do you also support those individuals, including government officials, who say they cannot in good conscience, their own personal conscience, abide by some laws or discharge their duties as government officials, for example in issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples? Do you support those kinds of claims of religious liberty?
A: I can’t have in mind all cases that can exist about conscientious objection. But, yes, I can say conscientious objection is a right that is a part of every human right. It is a right. And if a person does not allow others to be a conscientious objector, he denies a right. Conscientious objection must enter into every juridical structure because it is a right, a human right. Otherwise we would end up in a situation where we select what is a right, saying ‘this right that has merit, this one does not.’ It (conscientious objection) is a human right. It always moved me when I read, and I read it many times, when I read the Chanson de Roland, when the people were all in line and before them was the baptismal font – the baptismal font or the sword. And, they had to choose. They weren’t permitted conscientious objection. It is a right and if we want to make peace we have to respect all rights.
Q: Would that include government officials as well?
A: It is a human right and if a government official is a human person, he has that right. It is a human right.
… AND A CUBAN EXILE’S COMMENTARY ON THE POPE’S VISIT
The commentary, acrid and impassioned, appeared on September 24 in “First Things,” the Catholic magazine in the United States that presents itself as “America’s most influential journal of religion and public life”:
The author, Carlos Eire, is the T.L. Riggs Professor of Catholic Studies at Yale University.
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