The Pope and Cuba
The Cubans celebrated Christmas this year - for the first time in almost 20 years. In Fidel Castro's Cuba, you see, Christmas is generally not on the calendar, replaced instead with a none-too-festive day of sugarcane harvesting. In a workers' paradise such as Cuba, who needs the opium of the masses, as Karl Marx contemptuously described religion?
But this year is different. In a little less than a month, on Jan. 21 to be precise, Pope John Paul II will pay a visit to Cuba, the first ever by a pontiff since Fidel's revolution in 1959, and as a courtesy, Mr. Castro generously allowed his subjects a privilege that Christians in free countries the world over consider a basic right. Communism, wherever this holdover of the 20th century's darkest days still exists, be it in Cuba or Communist China, still remains hostile to religious beliefs, which in the nature of things cannot be controlled by the state. As the head of the Roman Catholic Church, the pope will be the visible symbol of that which the state cannot extinguish, try as hard as it may.
It is fairly clear that Mr. Castro did not extend the invitation out of a sudden 11th-hour conversion in his advancing years. Cuba is feeling the impact of the Cuban Freedom Act, also known as the Helms-Burton bill, which penalizes foreign companies trading in the property of American citizens in Cuba. Despite the fact that President Clinton repeatedly has waived the legislation's harshest measures, it has had a distinctly discouraging effect on foreign companies eyeing lucrative business deals there. Mr. Castro is looking for all the help he can get to slip out from under its strictures, and Pope John Paul II is on the record opposing embargoes.
What the pope could really do for Cuba, however, probably bears little resemblance to what Fidel Castro has in mind. Having lived through both the occupation of Poland by Nazi Germany and by the communists, he knows better than most of us the nature of totalitarianism. …