Papal Overtures in a Cuban Key. the Pope's Visit and Civic Space for Cuban Religion

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Papal Overtures in a Cuban Key. The Pope's Visit and Civic Space for Cuban Religion. Edited by Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo. (Scranton: University of Scranton Press. 2002. Pp. xxxvii, 174. $27.95 paperback.)

In January, 1998, Pope John Paul II visited Cuba. The visit was much anticipated by Cuba watchers, who saw it as a potential turning point in Cuban history. Many wanted to be flies on the wall during the visit, eavesdropping on all of the conversations that took place in the hopes of understanding what the future might bring for religion and politics in Cuba. In Papal Overtures in a Cuban Key. The Pope's Visit and Civic Space for Cuban Religion, Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo has edited a valuable collection of essays that suggests some of the answers.

In his introduction to the collection, Stevens-Arroyo places the Pope's visit in a deep historical context. He argues that the modern perceptions of a weak Church are based on the historical estrangement of the institutional Church with popular religion. The early openness of Catholicism in Cuba (and the Americas in general) gave way to a tough orthodoxy by the late eighteenth century. New theological preoccupations in Europe, combined with the identification of the Cuban Church with an oppressive colonial power, further distanced formal Catholicism from popular religions. Stevens-Arroyo recognizes that simple descriptions of the Church as an exploitive foreign intrusion are not very helpful, but at the same time demonstrates that the historical weaknesses of the Church hampered it during the crisis of the 1960's.

The tightly packed introduction sets the stage for analyses of the struggle for civic and social space in Cuba. Some precise definition of "civic" and "social" space, especially the way in which their meaning might have changed through time, would have given more theoretical precision to the essays, but their main points are clear. all in one way or another analyze the efforts of the Catholic Church to play a more visible part in the ongoing drama of Cuban life, especially as it touches the questions of liberty and social justice. …