Momentous Days Ahead
By Robert Royal
Pope Francis arrives in Cuba Saturday, followed immediately by a swing through Washington, New York, and the World Meeting on Families in Philadelphia. Just a few days after he returns to Rome, the Synod on the Family will open and run through almost the entire month of October. Analysts will pick apart the visits to Cuba and America – rightly so, because they involve the most prominent Communist survivor (Cuba) of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the premier protagonist in the international arena today (USA). But in terms of real impact in the world, it’s quite likely that the Synod on the Family will have the most far-reaching consequences.
Pope Francis has been in Cuba before (never in America), and helped broker President Obama’s recent restoration of diplomatic relations with the island. He was asked to be present during John Paul II’s 1998 trip and even wrote a short book about it later, which set out what we have come to see as Francis’s basic social vision.
In his native Argentina, the Montoneros, Marxists financed and abetted by Castro, murdered over 800 people, kidnapped over 1700 more, exploded hundreds of bombs in cities, and assaulted army and police. Unlike his fellow countryman Ernesto “Che” Guevara, Jorge Bergoglio never felt any love for Marxism.
But as the Cuban book showed, Bergoglio had already developed an equal dislike of what Latin Americans often call “neoliberalism” – an unregulated capitalism that most of us in developed nations don’t recognize as an accurate description of our politics and economies. Indeed, in Europe and America, the national state is more and more involved in every aspect of economics, local governance, and even cultural and moral questions.
As Austen Ivereigh explains in The Great Reformer, his indispensable biography of Pope Francis, the future pope was much influenced by a maverick intellectual and friend Methol Ferré. They “foresaw the Latin-American Church as the catalyst of a common Latin-American destiny –la patria grande – in a global future marked by continent-states. After the failures of both the North American model of economic growth and Cuban-style socialism, they were convinced that the stage now belonged to the People of God.”
As pope, Francis has retained that basic vision. He will likely repeat it in Cuba. More unpredictable is how he will deal with the Cuban regime, which is still a sponsor of terrorism, though a now minor player in global politics. It just released 3500 prisoners in anticipation of his visit – primarily the old and young, no political prisoners so far as we can tell. Benedict XVI arguably made a grave mistake in not meeting with dissidents during his own visit to Cuba in 2006. The famous Damas de blanco, the Ladies in White who have been fearless in calling for justice for political prisoners, again fear they are being shunned.
The pope has not been particularly well served by staff during recent trips – witness the “surprise” gift by Bolivia’s Marxist president of Jesus crucified on the hammer and sickle, and the pope’s misinformed plea for a political prisoner in Paraguay, who turned out to be held by guerrillas, not the government. The Castro brothers are wily propagandists and manipulators; it will take some Christian cunning to thwart their designs.
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