Pope Unlikely to Stress Politics in Cuba Visit: Church Official Foresees Visit as Purely Religious

Article excerpt

Those hoping, even praying, that the most anti-communist pope in history will bring a message of divine judgment to Fidel Castro during his visit to the island early next year will likely be disappointed, a church official says.

Thomas Quigley, a senior adviser to the U.S. Catholic Conference and a recent Cuba visitor to plan for the trip of Pope John Paul II, said Friday the pontiff's visit, scheduled for Jan. 21-25, will be about opening space for the church to operate in, rather than pontificating on the state of U.S.-Cuban relations, the U.S. economic embargo or Fidel Castro's authoritarian Communist government.

Recalling the pope's message in Poland in 1983, credited with galvanizing the faithful and hastening the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, and his sermon before Haitian President Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier that same year saying "something needs to change," Mr. Quigley said this trip will be different.

"I suspect [those hoping for a political message] may be disappointed," he said.

Cuba is the only Latin American country the pontiff has not visited since he became pope in October 1978.

He said the 36-year-old U.S. embargo on Cuba, which the pope has spoken against, and U.S.-Cuban relations will not be a central theme during the trip.

"A strong denunciation of either the government or the embargo would detract from the purpose of the visit," Mr. Quigley said.

"The thing to avoid is Managua," he said, referring to the disastrous 1993 papal visit to Nicaragua, when Sandinista hooligans disrupted a public Mass in the capital.

Mr. Quigley's address to the American Chamber of Commerce of Cuba gave an overview of the history of the Catholic Church in Cuba since Mr. Castro took power in 1959 and detailed the planning for the forthcoming trip.

He recalled the difficult years of direct persecution of the church by the atheist government and the thaw in the mid-1980s that led to Mr. Castro's first invitation to the pope to visit Cuba.

That trip, planned for 1990 or 1991, was canceled in the aftermath of the collapse of Soviet communism and the loss of Cuba's Soviet subsidy, which Mr. Quigley called Cuba's "artificial life support."

In 1990, Mr. Castro launched a new attack on the church. Mr. Quigley said a priest told him that this ushered in a difficult period "almost like the outright persecution of the church [by the Cuban government] in the 1960s."

He said that while the invitation was not withdrawn, the specific reasons why it never took place would remain "shrouded in mystery" until the Vatican decides to open the books on the episode in the future. …