|CHURCH AND STATE|
January 23, 1998
During the first few days of his Cuba visit, Pope John Paul II has criticized the government policies of both the U.S. and Fidel Castro's regime. But what does the visit mean to the people of the last communist country in the Western Hemisphere? After a background report, four experts debate the past, present and future of Cuba.
PHIL PONCE: We get four views now: Alfredo Duran was born in Cuba and left in 1959, he is vice president of the Cuban Community for Democracy, which opposes the U.S. embargo; Rafael Penalver, who was also born in Cuba and left in 1961, he's president of the San Carlos Institute in Key West, Florida, a Cuban cultural and education center; Father Thomas Reese, a senior fellow at Georgetown's Woodstock Theological Center and author of Inside the Vatican; Father Joseph Nangle heads the Franciscan Mission Service, which sponsors missions worldwide, and he's a former missionary himself. And, gentlemen, welcome, all of you. Mr. Penalver, as we just saw images of the pope together with Castro, with Mr. Castro, President Castro, putting his arm on the pope's shoulder, exchanging gifts, what is your reaction to seeing the two of them together?
RAFAEL PENALVER, San Carlos Institute: Well, I'll tell you, it's a gut-wrenching situation to see, to see the pope with Fidel and to someone who has been affected, I think most Cubans feel repelled at the thought of these two men together, yet, I think we have to overcome these personal feelings to see what's behind the message and the possibilities for the Cuban people. I think the pope is in the process of empowering the Cuban people, telling them you have certain rights that no one can take away from you, certain rights are yours as children of God, and no one, much less Fidel Castro, can take those rights away from you.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Duran, your reaction to seeing the pope and President Castro exchanging gifts and having a personal relation, evidently.
ALFREDO DURAN, Cuban Committee for Democracy: Well, I think that the relation doesn't necessarily--is a personal relation. I think that both the Vatican and the Government of Cuba have taken this visit in very serious terms; I think that the images that we have seen coming out of Cuba are not only historical but very dramatic. And it is, I hope, the dynamics of engagement, the seed of engagement that is so much needed in Cuba to resolve the problems of Cuba. What Cuba needs is national reconciliation, and that is the message that the pope is giving to Cuba and to Castro.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Penalver, have you spoken to anyone in Cuba as to what--what the reaction might be in Cuba?
RAFAEL PENALVER: Oh, yes, I spoke today to several people, including priests who were present at the Mass that the pope held this morning in Camaguey. There is tremendous expectations; there is great happiness. The people for the first time are gathering together to cheer someone other than Fidel Castro. The fact that they are assembling for any purpose, other than for a revolutionary purpose, I think that itself is revolutionary. Yet, there is concern, concern that what's going to happen once the pope leaves is the world getting the false impression that this is the way that things are normally Cuba; they are not. This is a showcase that Castro has allowed, and people are concerned about what will happen afterwards. Are we going to go back to the old ways? This is something that has been just staged for other political purposes but are basically being allowed by Castro for the purpose of perpetuating his hold on power.
PHIL PONCE: And, Mr. Duran, what are you hearing as far as people's reactions, people's expectations?
ALFREDO DURAN: I think that the expectations and the hope that the pope's visit has planted in the minds of the Cuban people is of such intensity that Cuba will never be the same after the pope leaves. I think that from now on the people of Cuba feel empowered by a message of hope and a message basically what the pope is saying, this is your problem, and you've got to be brave enough not to have fear and resolve it. I think that that message to the Cuban people is going to have such an impact in the society and in the political processes that we might be seeing the beginning of a normalization of the Cuban situation. I hope so.
PHIL PONCE: Father Nangle, how about the impact on the Catholic Church in Cuba?
REV. JOSEPH NANGLE, Franciscan Mission Service: Well, obviously, it's going to be enormous. The Holy Father coming to Cuba is just a great moment for the Catholic Church in Cuba, which has had, I think, increasing freedom. I wouldn't say total freedom, but it has had moments of increasing freedom, and I'm sure that, like Mr. Duran, things will never be the same again. I am sure that the Church in Cuba will continue to enjoy increasing freedoms. That's kind of a hope after the pope's visit.
PHIL PONCE: Father Reese, some of the messages that the pope has been giving in the past few days includes a reduction of abortion, a call for parochial schools, basically a different way of living. Presumably, this is not a message, these are not messages that people have been hearing in some time. How receptive do you think people might be to that pastoral message?
REV. THOMAS REESE, Georgetown University: When the pope visits a country, he has a number of themes that he very frequently touches on. Family is one. When he speaks to young people, he challenges them to take responsibility and to live out their lives. He--his message can be extremely challenging. I remember when he came to the United States, for example, and spoke in Yankee Stadium. There he spoke to the American people and used the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. And, as you recall from that parable, the poor man, Lazarus was at the gate and hungry and sick, and the rich man didn't pay any attention to him. Well, when they both die, the Lazarus went to heaven and the rich man went to hell. And he looked out at his audience, at all these Americans and said, "Lazarus is at your gate, and it's the third world." Now, that is something that no one in the United States is saying. No one wants to hear, not even the liberal Democrats talk of this kind of language anymore. This is the way the pope comes to a country. He doesn't tell people just what they want to hear. He challenges them to take responsibility to love one another and to do works of justice.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Penalver, what does Fidel Castro stand to gain from this visit?
RAFAEL PENALVER: I think there's a certain measure of legitimacy that comes in the world stage to present to 3,000 journalists who have gathered in Cuba this image of Cuba, which is only for this week. It's a week, and this week's only. I mean, there's no such freedoms in Cuba. They haven't been there before. We have to see whether this expands. What I think he's trying to gain an entry into the world stage, trying to sell the world the idea that he's going to open up a process, that he is the person that can open the process to a transition, and that--that's a very, a very big question mark. What might come out of this, I think, is that certainly the Cuban people are going to have a new measure of faith, a new challenge to try to solve their problems on their own terms, and I think the world. Castro's definitely trying to manipulate the papal visit to his benefit, but I think the world can see through this whole scenario. And when he welcomed the pope the other day at the airport, he went through for 20 minutes this long speech in the pope in a frail man standing there in the hot Cuban sun. And at the end, Castro was able to offer the Cuban people just the same rhetoric that he's offered before: socialism or death, in his own words, where the pope was offering the Cuban people truth and hope.
PHIL PONCE: How about that, Father Reese, can--is the pope subject to manipulation?
REV. THOMAS REESE: This is a very smart Pope when it comes to dealing with communist countries. After all, he has a priest and as a bishop lived in Poland under communism. He knows how to deal with these people, and certainly every government tries to manipulate the pope. But the pope has his message that he wants to get across. And when he's come to Cuba, he's talked--he's talking about human rights. He's talking about the responsibility of people to take charge of their lives, the need for their freedom, for the church to evangelize, to teach, to be involved in social programs, all of these kinds of things. I mean, Castro would have loved to have had the pope come and have a photo opportunity of the two embracing, the pope condemning the embargo, and then going home. This was unacceptable. The Pope wanted to go to a number of cities. He wanted to have public Masses. He wanted to be able to speak to the people. He wanted coverage by the Cuban television, so that--
PHIL PONCE: All these things were negotiated. The Pope--
REV. THOMAS REESE: Absolutely.
PHIL PONCE: --had to cut a deal as to who was going to get what.
REV. THOMAS REESE: Oh, yes. I mean, this is what happens when you're dealing with a government that has total control over a society. You have to negotiate; you have to push as hard as you can; and it was, it was hard negotiating. But I think that the Church was fairly successful in getting what it wanted in this visit.
REV. JOSEPH NANGLE: I think what we might see also coming out of this visit really is a kind of analysis of where the gospel of Jesus Christ and social change, social justice coincide. I would hope that serious thinkers would find that the Cuban revolution has not been totally negative for the Cuban people and that a lot of gospel values have been effected in that country. I do think the pope, when he speaks from a faith perspective, he's a man of God, but also because of that is enormously in the human condition, and the Cuban revolution has made some strides in helping to ameliorate the conditions that existed pre-Castro.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Duran, is there a potential downside for President Castro in the pope's visit?
ALFREDO DURAN: I don't think so. I think that this visit, both the Church and the Cuban government are coming out winners. I think that--and I agree with Father Reese and to some extent with Penalver. But I think that the purpose of the--that Castro had in this visit was, first of all, trying to obtain some legitimacy, but also trying to show that the foreign policy that the United States has followed for the past 40 years has not really isolated the Cuban government, which, in fact, U.S. policy has isolated before the world, before the European community, the Latin American community, the Church, and basically the whole world is right now focused on the Cuba issue. He has gained tremendously from this visit. But also the Church has gained tremendously from this visit. We're just looking at it, just have to look at TV, and you see the impact that the pope is having on the Cuban people.
PHIL PONCE: Father Nangle, how has the Church, how has the Church been operating in the past few years? How has Castro loosened things up for the Roman Catholic Church and other religions?
REV. JOSEPH NANGLE: Well, there was a time when it was illegal to be a person of faith and be part of the government; it was not permitted. That has been loosened considerably. The state calls itself now not an atheist state but a secular state. The Church has had, I think, increasing freedom to operate and now around the pope's visit they asked for 12 public Masses in preparation for the pope's visit; they were given nine public Masses, something that would have been unheard of in prior years. I was there 10 years ago and moved around with enormous freedom, I must say, but as a guest of the government there. And I found that the Churches were open; they were freely accessible; and the Cardinal Archbishop of Havana, the archbishop in those days, was a public figure who was able to speak and to operate rather freely. I don't want to canonize the revolution by any means. There's enormous difficulties and wrongs that have been effected by that revolution, but I do say I think the Church has gained enormous freedoms in the last several years, and now, with the pope's visit, will continue to enjoy, I think greater freedom. The people must have it now.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Penalver, would you see this visit as the kind of pivotal event that can really transform a society? Is it possible for Cuba to be the same after the pope leaves on Sunday?
RAFAEL PENALVER: I don't think it'll ever be the same. I think the genie's out of the bottle to an extent, but I would like to take issue with a couple of statements made before. I wish that the Cuban people were as free as the Father was when he visited there 10 years ago. Obviously, Castro projects an image of openness to the world, while he represses the Cuban people to the extent that this year for the first time and as a special one-year concession he allowed the celebration of Christmas. I mean, something as elemental as that was given for just one year. The Cuban people were given this great gift, to be able to celebrate Christmas. And also on the issue of the embargo, I think the Church and the pope have condemned the U.S. embargo, but they have--he has equally condemned the internal embargo that Castro has on these people. And that's the embargo of the very basic rights, the right to speak, the right to write, the right to travel, the right to assemble. These are rights that the Cuban people have been denied and the right to life. Castro cannot just continue to take human life away in execution squads, or imprison people indefinitely, as he's doing.
PHIL PONCE: Father Reese, this question might be highly speculative, but, is there a possibility, or has it occurred to you that this visit might have a personal dimension for Castro, as well as a political dimension? I mean, here he is, a person who grew up as a Roman Catholic, who's now not a young man anymore.
REV. THOMAS REESE: Well, I think the primary agenda is political for Castro. I mean, he's concerned about his country, the impact of the embargo, the future of Cuba after Castro. I think that's uppermost in his mind. On the other hand, he's also a human being and there can be a whole dynamic there that they can be going on. But I think the key thing about this visit that I would agree with our guest from Miami is that what's going to happen in the future--I mean, I think the hope is that the amount of freedom and the space the Church has will continue to grow; that the Church will be able to have schools; that they will be able to teach children about their religious faith; that the Church will be able to have access to the media; that it will be able to have printing presses and be able to have a newspaper; that the Church will be able to be involved in social services; all these things that are just taken for granted as part of the Church's mission everywhere else, but also--
PHIL PONCE: And we have to leave it there, gentlemen. I thank you all very much.