A pope of ironies in Cuba and Mexico
Although Pope Benedict XVI’s March 23-28 outing to Mexico and Cuba officially constituted one voyage, in reality it was a tale of two trips. In Cuba, the pontiff was at his most political, engaging in a delicate and controversial tête-à-tête with the Castro regime; in Mexico, Benedict instead focused on the pastoral, featuring a gentle debunking of clericalism.
Benedict’s six-day journey, which took him to the León archdiocese in Mexico and Santiago and Havana in Cuba, was the 23rd foreign outing of his papacy, but his first to Spanish-speaking Latin America. (The pontiff visited Brazil in 2007.)
From a media point of view, the spotlight was clearly on Cuba, where the pontiff met both 80-year-old Raúl Castro, the current president, and his 85-year-old brother Fidel, father of the island nation’s revolution. Benedict, who also turns 85 on April 16, reportedly told the ailing Fidel that despite his age, “I can still do my job.”
As if to prove the point, Benedict walked a political and diplomatic tightrope while on Cuban soil March 26-28.
Given that the church is virtually the lone institution that has maintained some autonomy from the government, Benedict’s every word was scoured for political significance. For instance, when he stood in Havana’s Revolutionary Square on March 28 under a massive banner of Che Guevara and warned of “irrationality and fanaticism,” it was widely taken as a challenge to Cuba’s Marxist ideology.
Yet Benedict also denounced the U.S.-imposed embargo, and declined requests to meet with dissidents. Those moves led to criticism of the trip as a public relations coup for the Castro brothers. [More]