Has Castro become a Christian?

George Conger reports stories in the Italian press that Fidel Castro, the communist dictator of Cuba, may have “rediscovered Jesus” and will be reconciled with the church from which he was excommunicated:

Fidel Castro will be received back into the communion of the Roman Catholic Church during Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the island in March, the Italian press is reporting. If true, this is a remarkable story — and one that has yet to catch the attention of editors this side of the Atlantic.

On 1 Feb 2012, La Republicca — [Italy’s second largest circulation daily newspaper, La Republicca follows a center-left political line and is strongly anti-clerical; not anti-Catholic per se but a critic of the institutional church] — reported that as death approaches, the octogenarian communist has turned to God for solace.

ABC’s Global Note news blog is the only U.S. general interest publication I have found that has reported this story. It referenced the La Republicca story and said that Castro’s daughter Alina is quoted as saying “During this last period, Fidel has come closer to religion: he has rediscovered Jesus at the end of his life. It doesn’t surprise me because dad was raised by Jesuits.” The article quotes an unidentified high prelate in the Vatican who is working on the Pope’s Cuba trip: “Fidel is at the end of his strength. Nearly at the end of his life. His exhortations in the party paper Granma, are increasingly less frequent. We know that in this last period he has come closer to religion and God.”

via GetReligion » “The press . . . just doesn’t get religion.” — William Schneider.

If this turns out to be true, it would be arguably a greater miracle than the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union:  the collapse of communism in the heart of one of its most bloodthirsty adherents.  It would also be one of the most dramatic conversions of an atheist in recent memory.  The man put untold numbers of Christians in front of firing squads.  How amazing is a grace that would accept him, forgive him, and accept him as one of those Christians as he faced his own death.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Michael B.

    Imagine if Castro had been a really nice person his whole life, but never had heard of Jesus. We would presume he goes to hell. But a man can have people tortured, have a late-in-life conversion to the right religion, and he’s declared to be perfect in the eyes of God. Don’t you find something unjust about that? What if Castro had been brought up as a Muslim? It seems pretty unlikely he’d be making a conversion to Christianity right now.

  • Michael B.

    Imagine if Castro had been a really nice person his whole life, but never had heard of Jesus. We would presume he goes to hell. But a man can have people tortured, have a late-in-life conversion to the right religion, and he’s declared to be perfect in the eyes of God. Don’t you find something unjust about that? What if Castro had been brought up as a Muslim? It seems pretty unlikely he’d be making a conversion to Christianity right now.

  • Tom Hering

    Mercy isn’t justice.

  • Tom Hering

    Mercy isn’t justice.

  • Kirk

    And if he’s under the blood of Christ then it’s perfect justice.

  • Kirk

    And if he’s under the blood of Christ then it’s perfect justice.

  • Cincinnatus

    I’ll believe it when he empties the gulags. Otherwise, it’s posturing.

  • Cincinnatus

    I’ll believe it when he empties the gulags. Otherwise, it’s posturing.

  • Robin

    Thank God for mercy. If I am looking for fairness, then I am in huge trouble.

  • Robin

    Thank God for mercy. If I am looking for fairness, then I am in huge trouble.

  • http://thirstytheologian.com David Kjos

    How does returning to Roman Catholicism = becoming a Christian? Or did the Reformation really have nothing to do with the gospel?

  • http://thirstytheologian.com David Kjos

    How does returning to Roman Catholicism = becoming a Christian? Or did the Reformation really have nothing to do with the gospel?

  • Joe

    Last I checked we confess that their are believers in other denominations …

  • Joe

    Last I checked we confess that their are believers in other denominations …

  • Steve Billingsley

    I hope it’s true for Castro’s sake and for the sake of the longsuffering people of Cuba.

    Any time I am tempted to think of God’s mercy as somehow unfair, all I have to do is think of my own sinfulness and then all I can say is “Thank you, God for your great mercy”.

  • Steve Billingsley

    I hope it’s true for Castro’s sake and for the sake of the longsuffering people of Cuba.

    Any time I am tempted to think of God’s mercy as somehow unfair, all I have to do is think of my own sinfulness and then all I can say is “Thank you, God for your great mercy”.

  • DonS

    Michael B. @ 1: Read the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matt. 20: 1-16). Romans 3:10 says there is none righteous, no, not one. Even if Castro had been a “really nice person” his whole life, the Bible clearly says he is still a sinner, and therefore not justified before God. It is not what we do, but what Christ did for us that justifies. Early in life, late in life, no matter what we have done ourselves, whether or not we put our faith in Christ’s atoning work is all that matters. If Castro has been saved, it would be like the thief on the cross (Luke 23:43).

    I’m with Cincinnatus, though. Assuming Castro still has power in Cuba, we should see some major changes in that culture if the account of his conversion is true.

  • DonS

    Michael B. @ 1: Read the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matt. 20: 1-16). Romans 3:10 says there is none righteous, no, not one. Even if Castro had been a “really nice person” his whole life, the Bible clearly says he is still a sinner, and therefore not justified before God. It is not what we do, but what Christ did for us that justifies. Early in life, late in life, no matter what we have done ourselves, whether or not we put our faith in Christ’s atoning work is all that matters. If Castro has been saved, it would be like the thief on the cross (Luke 23:43).

    I’m with Cincinnatus, though. Assuming Castro still has power in Cuba, we should see some major changes in that culture if the account of his conversion is true.

  • Kirk

    @Joe,

    You obviously didn’t check with anyone from the LCMS.

  • Kirk

    @Joe,

    You obviously didn’t check with anyone from the LCMS.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Man, the scandal of the cross is quite the shibboleth, isn’t it?

    Cincinnatus (@4), I find your response interesting. Who, exactly, isn’t “posturing”? You could surely accuse me of it — there are sins that have dogged me for many years, and likely will for many more. Am I not a Christian (in your sight, at least) until I finally stop these particular sins? Or am I a Christian because these particular sins (among others) give me no other option but to look to Christ?

    Sure, I’m opening myself up to charges of naivete, but I’ll take it. I certainly do hope that the reports are true. And I also hope that any such conversion will be accompanied by Castro’s repentance for the wrongs he did his fellow Cubans, along with attempts to right those wrongs.

    But I’m not comfortable saying that unless he meets my particular demands for restitution, his conversion is therefore false.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Man, the scandal of the cross is quite the shibboleth, isn’t it?

    Cincinnatus (@4), I find your response interesting. Who, exactly, isn’t “posturing”? You could surely accuse me of it — there are sins that have dogged me for many years, and likely will for many more. Am I not a Christian (in your sight, at least) until I finally stop these particular sins? Or am I a Christian because these particular sins (among others) give me no other option but to look to Christ?

    Sure, I’m opening myself up to charges of naivete, but I’ll take it. I certainly do hope that the reports are true. And I also hope that any such conversion will be accompanied by Castro’s repentance for the wrongs he did his fellow Cubans, along with attempts to right those wrongs.

    But I’m not comfortable saying that unless he meets my particular demands for restitution, his conversion is therefore false.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Kirk (@10), try to keep your LCMS/Lutheran criticisms in the realm of reality, hmm?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Kirk (@10), try to keep your LCMS/Lutheran criticisms in the realm of reality, hmm?

  • Joe

    Kirk – I am in the LCMS and we confess that there are believers in other church bodies. We just worry about how long they will remain believers when they are constantly feed false doctrine.

  • Joe

    Kirk – I am in the LCMS and we confess that there are believers in other church bodies. We just worry about how long they will remain believers when they are constantly feed false doctrine.

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com Steve Martin

    There’s nothing like believing that we are the ONLY ones who know the truth,

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com Steve Martin

    There’s nothing like believing that we are the ONLY ones who know the truth,

  • kenneth

    A brute for sure that accepted Jesus after nearly a hundred years of painstaking persecution and murder. No, don’t think so.

    Thinking of popery one doesn’t have to look far into history to see what RC is really about. Some who want a conglomerate of the church may find what I am to say offensive. As Kieregaard would say, the incomprehesible is not for finite minds to know if that is a consolation to RC and it’s increasing gathering of heretics.

    Luther’s pope Leo 10th is a prime example. Gospel be “gone” is RC officaily now and yet. Trent said, a morose “no” to the gospel re-discoverd from Paul and John Hus by Luther, especially in his commentary on Galatians. Trent is still held tightly by Benedict and his cohorts.

    Could someone help me out and give the name or names of the most corrupt of popes, perhaps a century or so earlier than Luther’s find.

  • kenneth

    A brute for sure that accepted Jesus after nearly a hundred years of painstaking persecution and murder. No, don’t think so.

    Thinking of popery one doesn’t have to look far into history to see what RC is really about. Some who want a conglomerate of the church may find what I am to say offensive. As Kieregaard would say, the incomprehesible is not for finite minds to know if that is a consolation to RC and it’s increasing gathering of heretics.

    Luther’s pope Leo 10th is a prime example. Gospel be “gone” is RC officaily now and yet. Trent said, a morose “no” to the gospel re-discoverd from Paul and John Hus by Luther, especially in his commentary on Galatians. Trent is still held tightly by Benedict and his cohorts.

    Could someone help me out and give the name or names of the most corrupt of popes, perhaps a century or so earlier than Luther’s find.

  • Jonathan

    Funny how the Christian Right believes that Castro’s become a Christian but won’t believe that Obama’s long been one.

  • Jonathan

    Funny how the Christian Right believes that Castro’s become a Christian but won’t believe that Obama’s long been one.

  • Tom Hering

    Yeah, but, the Castro conversion has drama. The worst of sinners and all that. Obama was what? Baptized as an adult? Yawn.

    And he still hasn’t released his long-form baptism certificate.

  • Tom Hering

    Yeah, but, the Castro conversion has drama. The worst of sinners and all that. Obama was what? Baptized as an adult? Yawn.

    And he still hasn’t released his long-form baptism certificate.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Kirk@10, where do you get the idea that the LCMS doesn’t recognize that there are Christians in other church bodies? The LCMS most emphatically does and is confessionally required to do so. Lutherans go further than many evangelicals in affirming that the church of Rome, having baptism and the Lord’s Supper, is a true church from which saving faith can exist. Don’t confuse doctrinal strictness with the question of who is saved.

    Of course, what saves is faith in Christ and His atoning work, and sometimes that Gospel gets obscured in lots of churches, including some Protestant and yes Lutheran churches. What made me think Castro might be on to something is not so much that he might be received back into the church by the Pope but that his daughter is saying he is rediscovering Jesus. Yes, if that’s just the Jesus of Liberation Theology that won’t do anyone any good, but I’m praying for him.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Kirk@10, where do you get the idea that the LCMS doesn’t recognize that there are Christians in other church bodies? The LCMS most emphatically does and is confessionally required to do so. Lutherans go further than many evangelicals in affirming that the church of Rome, having baptism and the Lord’s Supper, is a true church from which saving faith can exist. Don’t confuse doctrinal strictness with the question of who is saved.

    Of course, what saves is faith in Christ and His atoning work, and sometimes that Gospel gets obscured in lots of churches, including some Protestant and yes Lutheran churches. What made me think Castro might be on to something is not so much that he might be received back into the church by the Pope but that his daughter is saying he is rediscovering Jesus. Yes, if that’s just the Jesus of Liberation Theology that won’t do anyone any good, but I’m praying for him.

  • Steve Billingsley

    Jonathan,

    It isn’t just the Christian Right that is dubious regarding Obama and Christianity. A Pew Poll taken in 2010 found that only one third of Americans identified him as a Christian, and even among African-Americans, 46 percent said they were unsure of what religion he practiced.

    I take him at his word when he professes the Christian faith, but there is no need to try and take a cheap swipe at the Christian Right in all of this.

  • Steve Billingsley

    Jonathan,

    It isn’t just the Christian Right that is dubious regarding Obama and Christianity. A Pew Poll taken in 2010 found that only one third of Americans identified him as a Christian, and even among African-Americans, 46 percent said they were unsure of what religion he practiced.

    I take him at his word when he professes the Christian faith, but there is no need to try and take a cheap swipe at the Christian Right in all of this.

  • Tom Hering

    Steve @ 19, it might be that Christianity has become synonymous with conservative politics in the minds of most Americans. To the point where no one makes any assumptions about the religion of a left-of-the-far-right politician.

  • Tom Hering

    Steve @ 19, it might be that Christianity has become synonymous with conservative politics in the minds of most Americans. To the point where no one makes any assumptions about the religion of a left-of-the-far-right politician.

  • Kirk

    @Vieth et al.,

    I was only teasing! You need to let me have a little fun at the expense of your closed communion and predilection for calling many with theological differences as “heretics.”

  • Kirk

    @Vieth et al.,

    I was only teasing! You need to let me have a little fun at the expense of your closed communion and predilection for calling many with theological differences as “heretics.”

  • Cincinnatus

    tODD: Of course, I will make no judgments as to the condition of Castro’s soul. It is enough to work out my own salvation with fear and trembling.

    But I’m also not willing to greet Castro’s announcement with acclaim. Is his “conversion” genuine? Would that it were so. But, either there are no atheists in foxholes, or this is, as I said, mere posturing: he can feel the zeitgeist; it’s no longer “cool” or expedient to be a hardcore atheist/materialist in an historically Catholic country. Castro is an opportunist if ever there was one–like most “communists” of the Stalinist-Machiavellian variety–and it strikes me, from what little I know of the current atmosphere in Cuba, that it would be meet and right, in terms of their own security, for the Castros to get back in touch with “the people”–and the people never were atheist-materialists, and it’s increasingly difficult to the Castros to demonstrate that their way is best these days.

    And are my “demands for restitution”–which is an uncharitable way of phrasing it, tODD; you know as well as I that I’m referencing the Scriptural allusion to fruits and observers’ knowledge thereof, not salvation via restitution–really that idiosyncratic? It seems to me that it’s not too much to ask of an authentically Christian ruler that he not imprison, murder, torture, etc., with impunity. I’m fully cognizant of raisons d’etat, but few such raisons have ever demanded the sort of tactics of which Castro has been guilty and of which he is still guilty. Put up or shut up. I’ll know him by his fruits. In the meantime, I pray for his soul.

  • Cincinnatus

    tODD: Of course, I will make no judgments as to the condition of Castro’s soul. It is enough to work out my own salvation with fear and trembling.

    But I’m also not willing to greet Castro’s announcement with acclaim. Is his “conversion” genuine? Would that it were so. But, either there are no atheists in foxholes, or this is, as I said, mere posturing: he can feel the zeitgeist; it’s no longer “cool” or expedient to be a hardcore atheist/materialist in an historically Catholic country. Castro is an opportunist if ever there was one–like most “communists” of the Stalinist-Machiavellian variety–and it strikes me, from what little I know of the current atmosphere in Cuba, that it would be meet and right, in terms of their own security, for the Castros to get back in touch with “the people”–and the people never were atheist-materialists, and it’s increasingly difficult to the Castros to demonstrate that their way is best these days.

    And are my “demands for restitution”–which is an uncharitable way of phrasing it, tODD; you know as well as I that I’m referencing the Scriptural allusion to fruits and observers’ knowledge thereof, not salvation via restitution–really that idiosyncratic? It seems to me that it’s not too much to ask of an authentically Christian ruler that he not imprison, murder, torture, etc., with impunity. I’m fully cognizant of raisons d’etat, but few such raisons have ever demanded the sort of tactics of which Castro has been guilty and of which he is still guilty. Put up or shut up. I’ll know him by his fruits. In the meantime, I pray for his soul.

  • Joe

    Kirk – I got the joke, and I laughed

  • Joe

    Kirk – I got the joke, and I laughed

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Todd, you are right indeed. We do practice a scandalous religion, and we should love to welcome the most unsavoury ones of all.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Todd, you are right indeed. We do practice a scandalous religion, and we should love to welcome the most unsavoury ones of all.

  • MikeD

    Here’s my honest question: Wouldn’t you Lutherans deny there was a conversion at all? I mean, he had a trinitarian baptism, thus was a Christian in your view.

    Of course, let’s be prayerful that his trust is in Christ alone. But how strange is it that a Pope, who is doctrinally one with others that burned true believers at the stake (and tried to kill your namesake) and whose formal canons currently anathematize the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, makes a visit and it we think it’s significant of anything about the man’s soul. I’d find much more reason for rejoicing had the Pope stomped out of Castro’s room saying that he was no different than that wild boar of ol’.

    Here’s a comment from one of you staunch Lutherans recently about the Lutheran pastor that changed his view about communion, “This is an essential doctrine that goes to the core of justification by faith alone and imputation, sola fide, gratia, scriptura, etc…. But this should not be surprising, scripture warns of such false teachers rising up from admist.”

    I must say I’m always so surprised at how on this blog how easy Lutherans take it on the Roman Catholic Church, who explicity deny justification and how insanely harsh they are on anybody that differs with them on the sacraments (which oddly enough the RCC does), which at best may only affect justification way down the line, if at all. Any thoughts as to why this might be the case?

  • MikeD

    Here’s my honest question: Wouldn’t you Lutherans deny there was a conversion at all? I mean, he had a trinitarian baptism, thus was a Christian in your view.

    Of course, let’s be prayerful that his trust is in Christ alone. But how strange is it that a Pope, who is doctrinally one with others that burned true believers at the stake (and tried to kill your namesake) and whose formal canons currently anathematize the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, makes a visit and it we think it’s significant of anything about the man’s soul. I’d find much more reason for rejoicing had the Pope stomped out of Castro’s room saying that he was no different than that wild boar of ol’.

    Here’s a comment from one of you staunch Lutherans recently about the Lutheran pastor that changed his view about communion, “This is an essential doctrine that goes to the core of justification by faith alone and imputation, sola fide, gratia, scriptura, etc…. But this should not be surprising, scripture warns of such false teachers rising up from admist.”

    I must say I’m always so surprised at how on this blog how easy Lutherans take it on the Roman Catholic Church, who explicity deny justification and how insanely harsh they are on anybody that differs with them on the sacraments (which oddly enough the RCC does), which at best may only affect justification way down the line, if at all. Any thoughts as to why this might be the case?

  • MikeD

    Veith @ 18, a clarification please. I grant you that you may believe there are other Christians at other church bodies. Are you allowing, for example, a Baptist gathering may be rightly considered a church, or are they just a sect in which case they may be excluded from the thrust of your statement? Thanks.

  • MikeD

    Veith @ 18, a clarification please. I grant you that you may believe there are other Christians at other church bodies. Are you allowing, for example, a Baptist gathering may be rightly considered a church, or are they just a sect in which case they may be excluded from the thrust of your statement? Thanks.

  • Lou G.

    Good grief.

  • Lou G.

    Good grief.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    It’s interesting to see, and would be wonderful if true. That being said, while I’m sure there are Catholic Christians, Catholicism as a whole still denies the doctrine of justification by faith alone.

    Now, if Castro makes an appearance holding a book of Luther in one hand, and a book of Calvin in the other, let’s talk.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    It’s interesting to see, and would be wonderful if true. That being said, while I’m sure there are Catholic Christians, Catholicism as a whole still denies the doctrine of justification by faith alone.

    Now, if Castro makes an appearance holding a book of Luther in one hand, and a book of Calvin in the other, let’s talk.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    The importance of doctrine nonewithstanding, where are saved by grace through faith, and that faith is in the work of Christ, not in believing that we are saved by grace through faith. IE, we are not saved by doctrine, but by a Person.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    The importance of doctrine nonewithstanding, where are saved by grace through faith, and that faith is in the work of Christ, not in believing that we are saved by grace through faith. IE, we are not saved by doctrine, but by a Person.

  • Daniel Canales

    Michael B,
    I don’t know if this story is true or not, but on what basis can anyone say that a Fidel Castro’s conversion to christianity is unlikely. Did the gospels not show where our Lord Jesus Christ came to save the sinners? Wasn’t Paul (Saul) a persecutor of Christians before his conversion? How is anything “unlikely” for the creator of the universe, the Savior of mankind, who has already resurrected.
    The concept that the Lord saving someone we think of as being really bad is “unjustified” is based on a simple human frailty, which is misunderstanding the gravity of sin that makes all of us equally unworthy (whether we are murderers or not). Even “good” christians who’ve lived 70 years will stand before God with an uncountable number of sins – that’s why salvation comes from redemption. God’s grace is never earned, but freely given – so it’s never “unjustified” by human standards.

  • Daniel Canales

    Michael B,
    I don’t know if this story is true or not, but on what basis can anyone say that a Fidel Castro’s conversion to christianity is unlikely. Did the gospels not show where our Lord Jesus Christ came to save the sinners? Wasn’t Paul (Saul) a persecutor of Christians before his conversion? How is anything “unlikely” for the creator of the universe, the Savior of mankind, who has already resurrected.
    The concept that the Lord saving someone we think of as being really bad is “unjustified” is based on a simple human frailty, which is misunderstanding the gravity of sin that makes all of us equally unworthy (whether we are murderers or not). Even “good” christians who’ve lived 70 years will stand before God with an uncountable number of sins – that’s why salvation comes from redemption. God’s grace is never earned, but freely given – so it’s never “unjustified” by human standards.

  • Daniel Canales

    Well put Klasis, Gene – while we are saved by faith alone, one is not lost because they have the doctrine confused. Just cause someone is wrong about justification by works or by faith, – that just means their doctrine is wrong, not that they aren’t saved (unless they really are only depending on themselves). It’s pretty clear from Jesus’ works in the Gospel that doctrinal purity is not what He is preaching. Now it is true that a church with right doctrine will have greater success in keeping others from going astray – but that only makes sense.

  • Daniel Canales

    Well put Klasis, Gene – while we are saved by faith alone, one is not lost because they have the doctrine confused. Just cause someone is wrong about justification by works or by faith, – that just means their doctrine is wrong, not that they aren’t saved (unless they really are only depending on themselves). It’s pretty clear from Jesus’ works in the Gospel that doctrinal purity is not what He is preaching. Now it is true that a church with right doctrine will have greater success in keeping others from going astray – but that only makes sense.

  • Lou G.

    Mike @25/26 – btw, I agree with your assertion. I should have qualified my ‘good grief’ comment and to whom I was referring. Think I’ll let it go for now. Just wanted you to know that I get what you’re saying and have seen the same.

  • Lou G.

    Mike @25/26 – btw, I agree with your assertion. I should have qualified my ‘good grief’ comment and to whom I was referring. Think I’ll let it go for now. Just wanted you to know that I get what you’re saying and have seen the same.


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