Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Pope in Cuba

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Pope in Cuba

Article excerpt

POPE FRANCIS arrived in Cuba on Saturday, the third pontiff to visit. But Francis, the first Latin American pope, came to the island nation with a different authority than did his predecessors. As a prelate who once navigated an oppressive regime in his native Argentina, Francis is expected to chart a course for more religious freedom in Cuba.

The task is daunting, given more than a half-century of communist rule. But the likelihood that the United States would reestablish diplomatic relations with Cuba once seemed impossible. And Francis facilitated just such a thing.

Beginning a trip that will take him to Washington, D.C., New York City and, finally, Philadelphia, Francis is expected to return to several themes: care for the disenfranchised, income inequality, religious oppression and climate change.

But if the pope has one mission in Cuba, it is to get the Castro regime to loosen its grip on the church -- open Catholic schools and hospitals and allow the Catholic Church to speak up against social injustice. To that end, it may not be insignificant that upon his arrival in Cuba, the pope referred to the words of Cuban 19th-century independence hero Jose Marti.

Francis praised the new relationship between the United States and Cuba -- one he helped develop -- as a "victory of the culture of encounter and dialogue" over the "forever dead system of groups and dynasties."

Such a reference was clearly aimed at Raul Castro and his brother, Fidel, with whom the pope met on Sunday. Raul Castro has said that after encountering the pope he may consider becoming Catholic. That may be well-timed rhetoric and nothing else, but if Castro is even remotely sincere, the pope made clear in his homily during his public Mass in the Plaza de la Revolucion that being a leader means being a servant.

The Gospel reading from Mark set the tone for his homily: "Anyone who welcomes a little child such as this in my name welcomes me; and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me. …

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