Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Beyond Appearances

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Beyond Appearances

Article excerpt

In advance of Pope John Paul II's historic visit to Cuba last January, Fidel Castro relaxed, momentarily at least, the iron grip that had suppressed religion and religious expression almost from the outset of his Marxist revolution in 1959. Whether the Cuban dictator has cleaned up his act only to put a best foot forward during the papal visit still remains to be seen. But while 40 percent of Cuba's 11 million people are baptized Roman Catholics, many Cubans have little or no memory of their Catholic upbringing.

Nevertheless, Castro's moratorium and the papal visit brought to light significant fragments of a religious faith that, if not really comprising an underground, had been living in quiet repose.

These stirrings of religious expression, of course, did not begin in Cuba in 1998. Newsweek reports that "Cubans are already flocking back to church. Attendance at Mass has doubled since 1992 and baptisms have nearly tripled." Castro perhaps has learned what other dictators have learned -- that the roots of religion are hard to eradicate.

Most significantly and most encouragingly, as Kenneth Woodward wrote in Newsweek in anticipation of the pope's Cuban pilgrimage: "The Vatican insists that the pope's mission is pastoral, not political. But in Cuba the real spiritual leader -- indeed the reigning deity -- is the Virgin of Charity, the nation's patron saint. Every Catholic sanctuary and probably every Catholic home contains a replica of the Virgin. The pope, whose devotion to Mary has no equal, will crown her statue in El Cobre in what may well turn out to be the most emotionally charged moment of his five-day sweep across the island."

Once again the importance of Mary's role in our Catholic faith is underscored. Interestingly, neither of the two extreme approaches to devotion to the Virgin seem to cut much ice with rank-and-file Catholics. On the one hand, there are those who sometimes lapse into hyperthyroidism in offering their Marianism as a be-all and an end-all. In the other direction is a kind of religiously correct elite who frown, even look down their noses, at what they consider enthusiasm verging, occasionally, on superstition.

Happily the sense of faithful Catholics seems to have charted a middle course between the two extremes. It is a course marked by warmth and especially by spontaneity. She is seen as the mother to whom the distressed or afflicted can turn to for consolation. …

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