Rumor has it that the government is asking the members of Cuba’s Communist party to welcome Pope Benedict XVI in Havana. It is also said that they are behind the posters welcoming the Pope – a strange move in a country that once prided itself of its atheism.
So, make no mistake. This is not only a religious tour for the faithful. In the last years, the relationship between Cuba’s Cardinal Jaime Ortega and Raul Castro has served to reconcile the government with the Church.
Ortega has worked to free over 130 political prisoners that challenged the Cuban regime and has become the mediator in the long running conflict between the government and those opposing it.
The Church is walking a fine line. The Pope’s visit is to reinforce the Church’s position in the country and accompany the government in this period of economic reform. In recent years Raul Castro has slowly started to open up and liberalise the Cuban economy.
“The intervention of the Cardinal has had a positive response to put an end to hostilities. Both parts recognised themselves through the Church. We will continue doing it because it’s a channel that has opened up,” Orlando Marquez, the Church’s spokesperson, said.
Since the Revolution, the Church has been seen with suspicious eyes… Catholics were forbidden to study certain careers and going to mass was not well seen. But things have changed since the visit of John Paul II in 1998. In the last years the amount of Cuban priests has increased and there are more religious schools.
“The relationship is a win-win situation for the Church and for the Cuban government. The Church is finding its space in Cuban society and the government has improved its image with the issue on political prisoners, etc,” Enrique Lopez Oliva, an expert on Cuba’s religious history, said.
Some analysts here suggest that the Church is playing the role of the opposition because this is one party system where the Communist party has absolute control on political life. There have been some suggestions that the idea of a Christian Party is already looming in some sectors of Cuban society.
“The Church is getting ready for a Cuba without the Castro brothers and is trying to find a space to develop and grow. They are adapting to the current political circumstances,” Oliva said.
The Pope is coming to Cuba at a very special time and as some type of reforms are reshaping Cuban society. For many, it has become another voice in a country that has grown to hearing only one.