The pope's message of mercy is exactly what Cuba needs, some
"Cuba need mercy because Cubans have been divided even inside
Cuba, and Cubans have been divided even outside Cuba," said
Eduardo Azcarate, born in Havana but who now lives in Falls
The presence of Pope Francis can bring about a spirit of
forgiveness among Cubans, he said.
"I think that that is most important at this point, there has
to be reconciliation, and there has to be giving up of old
concerns, of old doubts, old fears, old hurts that have
accosted us" and divided Cubans, he said.
Following the 1959 revolution, Cuba declared itself
officially atheistic. Catholics could not be members of the
Communist Party. Recently, on a Web page promoting the
apostolic visit, a section labeled "Fidel and Religion"
addressed some of the discrimination against Christians that
took place. It is based on a past interview with a Dominican
priest known in Latin America as "Frei Betto."
"Fidel admitted frankly that there was discrimination in the
first decades of the Revolution," the page reads.
It then adds a quote by Fidel Castro addressing the topic,
saying that while "subtle discrimination of Christians" took
place at the start of Cuban revolution, it was not
intentional or planned.
Much has improved between the government and the Catholic
Church since the early days of the revolution. The church is
close to finishing construction of its first new cathedral in
50 years. Catholics can openly attend Mass and can now even
be members of the Communist Party. But the church still has
no permission to resume Catholic education on the island or
to purse its mission in institutions such as orphanages or
hospitals, as it did in the past.
That's why, even though there has been progress some, like
Oscar Gongora who left Cuba 23 years ago, say they have a
hard time finding trust. What's worrisome to him, Gongora
said, is having the church "negotiate" with the government
and having any sort of relationship.
"It worries me, it saddens me," he said.
Enrique Cabrera Napoles, founder of Cuba's Holy Childhood
Association who lives in Camaguey, Cuba, said the church
always holds hope of what a papal visit can bring, but people
must consider the spiritual landscape that comes with five
decades of the erosion of Catholic Cuba. Many Cubans will go
out to see Pope Francis, just as they went out to see St.
John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. But a papal visit can
only do so much, he said.
According to the Vatican, 53 percent of the island's 12.7
million or so inhabitants are said to be Catholic. Yet some
estimate that anywhere from 1.3 percent to 10 percent of
those practice the faith.