Smoky Mountains Sunrise

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Pope Benedict Meets Fidel Castro

"And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it."

John 1:5



By Giacomo Galeazzi
The much awaited and controversial face to face meeting between Benedict XVI and Fidel Castro (who was wearing a dark coat, his neck covered and supported by his wife and children) did take place in the end. These two contemporaries - one nearly 86 and the other about to reach the age of 85 in three weeks – are worlds apart in terms of their personal life stories. “Now that I no longer have the responsibilities that come with governing, I spend a lot of time reading and reflecting. How do you still manage to carry out your service?” the Commander asked Joseph Ratzinger point-blank. The Pope replied: “I am old but I still manage to carry out my duty.” A sharp answer which reduced all rumours about his resignation to nothing.

The meeting will do nothing to fuel pro-Castro propaganda and neither will it weaken the dissidents’ battle as the Financial Times feared. Before returning to Rome, Joseph Ratzinger received Fidel Castro in the Apostolic Nunciature in Havana, in a gesture of humility and dialogue, in the interests of the Cuban Catholic Church which has been persecuted for half a century. A sign of respect to oppressed Catholics not a tribute to a declining despot. On the one hand was the “Maximum Leader” of the Cuban Revolution who remained in power for almost 50 years, from 1959 to 2008, before illness led him to hand over power definitively to his brother. On the other was the former Theology Professor who, in 1959, had just begun a teaching career in Bonn and who seven years later was to become the leader of the universal Church. Reaching the end of his life, the revolutionary atheist showed a keen interest in religious questions, “interrogating” Peter’s successor. He followed Benedict XVI’s apostolic visit on the television and noticed some variations in the liturgy since his younger days. So the Pope explained how mass had changed.
Fidel then showed enthusiasm at the prospect of Wojtyla and Mother Teresa’s (“benefactress of Cuba whom I worship”) beatification. Fidel asked the Pope for some books on faith and received three papal commemorative medals and the promise of future advice on reading material.

He was then informed about the Pope’s “field of work” and on the aim of papal trips, at which point the conversation turned to more general issues: the crisis, the role of science and the environment. The handshake between Benedict XVI and Cuba’s “Maximum Leader” marked the emotional and symbolic culmination of Benedict XVI’s papal mission to Latin America.

Right up until the last moment there had been some uncertainty as to whether the encounter was going to take place and on Tuesday it was postponed so as not to overshadow the Pope’s meeting with the current President Raúl Castro. 

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