Was Raul Castro Joking About His Return to the Church?

Was Raul Castro Joking About His Return to the Church? May 17, 2015

So what do you think:  Was Cuban President Raul Castro mocking Pope Francis when he said that the Holy Father had inspired him, that after reading his speeches and becoming impressed by the Pope’s “wisdom and modesty,” he might consider returning to prayer and returning to the Catholic Faith?

Cuban President Raul Castro By Agecom Bahia [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Cuban President Raul Castro
By Agecom Bahia [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Berta Soler, head of the Cuban human rights movement “Ladies In White”, thinks so.  In an interview with Spanish radio station Onda Cero, Soler claimed that Castro was

“…mocking the Holy Father when he said that he might return to the bosom of the Church. He has never believed in Christ and he never will.”

I’m not so sure. Here in the U.S., the major media took the Cuban President pretty much at his word. USA Today reported that Castro, in a news conference at the office of Italian Premier Matteo Renzi after the Vatican talks, said,

“When the pope goes to Cuba in September, I promise to go to all his Masses, and with satisfaction.”

And the Cuban leader seemed truly grateful for Pope Francis’ brokering of the deal between the island nation and the United States, just ninety miles away–opening relations for the first time in 53 years.

The New York Times reported that Cuba seems to be softening its anti-religious stance under Raul Castro. Cuba’s Communist government had for years restricted religious worship and promoted atheism–but Pope John Paul II’s welcome of Castro’s older brother, Fidel, to the Vatican in 1996, and Pope John Paul’s subsequent visit to Cuba two years later, seemed to signal that Cuban government was ready to show a greater tolerance toward faith. In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI visited the island nation for the first time. Since that time, Cuban Catholic bishops have received permission to build a new church on the island–the first church to be permitted since the Communist regime assumed power in 1959.

The New York Times quoted Raul Castro, who said during Sunday’s news conference:

“I am from the Cuban Communist Party that doesn’t allow believers, but now we are allowing it. It’s an important step.”

The Associated Press also considered the Cuban leader’s comments to be sincere. However, Mary Anastasia O’Grady, writing in the Wall Street Journal, was more skeptical. She suggested that the Pope’s embrace of Castro was a “Trojan Horse plan” and interprets the cordial meeting as no more than the Pope’s

“Argentinian ideological nationalism, socialism, corporatism and anti-Americanism.”

Once inside the gates of Cuban hell, O’Grady believes, the Pope will “unleash an army of angels.”

*     *     *     *     *

I’ve been pondering the possible ramifications of the meeting between the Catholic pontiff and the Communist president. What can it mean for the future of the Church in Cuba?

For one thing, I don’t think Pope Francis was hiding his cards, as O’Grady seemed to imply. This pope’s style is nothing if not transparent–and Pope Francis has consistently welcomed saints and sinners, people from the margins of society, people of other faiths and people of no faith.

I’m also unconvinced by Berta Soler’s claim that Castro was mocking religion. There have been too many signs of rapprochement. It begins to seem that the Communist regime is simply tired of being the bad guy, and ready to join other nations in permitting its citizens to exercise their faith.

An interesting thing about Pope Francis: While he disappoints some, especially among conservative Catholics, with his generosity toward those at the margins of society, his outstretched arms offer welcome to those who seem farthest from the ideals of the Faith. He’s extended a warm welcome to the homeless and underserved, to homosexuals, to the divorced and remarried, to feminists and transgenders, to convicts, to many other groups which have been outside the loving arms of the Church. In welcoming them, he hasn’t softened Church teaching–but he’s been willing to meet them where they’re at. Once they’re listening, he can then lead them to greater understanding of God’s will for their lives.

Speaking to an audience of bishops and cardinals in February 2015, the Pope warned the hierarchy not to be “a closed caste” but to lead in reaching out to all who are rejected by society and the church. Religion News Service quoted his remarks regarding Jesus’ curing of the leper:

“There are two ways of thinking and of having faith: we can fear to lose the saved and we can want to save the lost.”

In Pope Francis, the Holy Spirit seems to have given us a pope for this age, an age when the numbers of the unconvinced and the unchurched is high. May God bless his pontificate with many conversions. And if it be His will, may Raul Castro be among them.

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  • Robin

    that was beautiful! thanks!

  • Antiphon411

    You have got to be kidding me!

    Yes, Francis will build the Church’s new foundation on sand.

    Welcomes Commies but shows “Traditionalists” the door.

    I pray for conversions, too: First, Francis’s!

    • irena mangone

      You are not very nice. do you hołd the Holy Spirit. he works Where He wills and if you dont lke it too bad. why do you live in the dark past. Not Everything was Good then or are you blind to he scandals etc etc. Jesus was not all rules to the xclusion of human fraility. He forgive he did not bash people over the head with the rules. And strict narrow mind

  • Sandro Palmyra

    It’s not a joke but he’s not serious either. Raul is not a Christian.

  • Sophia Sadek

    Francis has been called a Communist by conservative Catholics. Also, Communism started as a Christian movement. It has never been as anti-Christian as Catholicism has been anti-Communist. I do, however, doubt that Castro will pray in earnest. He might show up at a public prayer meeting to hob-nob with the congenital hypocrites.

    • AnneG

      Um, Karl Marx was a Jew. Engels was a pietist, turned atheist. Neither was Christian. Communism substitutes the State for God.

      • Sophia Sadek

        Communism existed before Marx. I suggest you look up Wilhelm Weitling. Marx was not as Jewish as national socialists would like to think. His father, like the father of Margaret Sanger, was a freethinker. Although his mother was Jewish, his childhood was not steeped in Jewish culture.

        • AnneG

          Marx was a secular Jew. “Freethinker” was 19th century speak for atheist. Neither was a Christian. No, communism as we know it, originated with Marx and Engels as economic theory. You said communism was Christian. It was not, even if a few Christians are communist. It substitutes the State for God, my point.
          Btw, who cares about Margaret Sanger? Totally off topic,

          • Sophia Sadek

            When Marx joined the Communist movement, it was predominantly Christian. Marx introduced economic theory based on eighteenth century enlightenment thinkers such as John Locke. His observations on the ruling class use of religion as an opiate tie into the observations of William Paley that people are addicted to the material trappings of religion. Paley is the Christian apologist who advocated intelligent design and burned the literature of Thomas Paine.

            Sanger is apropos of the topic since she got her start in the social justice movement. She had to drop her leftist rhetoric in order to attract donations from affluent contributors.