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    Miami archbishop says pope’s visit will help bring Cubans together

    Miami archbishop says pope’s visit will help bring Cubans together
    BY MIMI WHITEFIELD
    mwhitefield@MiamiHerald.com

    Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski, who will be leading his third pilgrimage
    to Cuba for a papal visit this month, says it’s no accident that Pope
    Francis chose to go to Cuba before a three-city visit to the United States.

    With the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the United
    States and Cuba on July 20 after more than 54 years of hostility, the
    pope is coming to Cuba “at a time of renewed hope,” he said.

    “Now Cuba becomes a bridge for Francis’ trip to the United States. In
    that sense it is very significant,” said Wenski in an interview with the
    Miami Herald at the archdiocese Pastoral Center in Miami Shores.

    After winding up his Sept. 19-22 visit to Cuba, the pope will spend six
    days in the United States — a trip that includes a meeting with
    President Barack Obama, an address to a joint session of Congress and a
    visit to the United Nations before he heads to Philadelphia, where the
    emphasis will be on families.

    When Pope Francis visits Washington, he will do so from the perspective
    of having just experienced Cuba’s reality and also will be able to draw
    from his 1998 trip to Cuba, when he was assistant archbishop of Buenos
    Aires and accompanied Pope John Paul II on his papal visit to the
    island, Wenski said.

    Although he downplays his role, the pope also aided the 18 months of
    secret negotiations between Cuba and the United States that culminated
    in the Dec. 17 announcement that the two countries would begin working
    toward normalizing relations and had overcome an impasse over release of
    prisoners, including USAID subcontractor Alan Gross, who had been held
    in Cuba for five years.

    Obama met with the pope in the spring of 2014, and in the summer Francis
    wrote letters to both Obama and Cuban leader Raúl Castro, urging them to
    find their way forward on humanitarian grounds. The negotiators also
    were invited to the Vatican in early October, and it was there they
    worked out the final agreement for rapprochement.

    Part of Francis’ mission as a pontiff is to be a “bridge builder,” said
    Sister Ondina Cortés, a theology professor at St. Thomas University. The
    rapprochement with the United States will “create new opportunities for
    reconciliation,” she said, but the process won’t be automatic and will
    require ongoing work.

    Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski will lead a pilgrimage to Cuba in
    September to attend Pope Francis’ mass in Havana and visit with Cuban
    catholics and their churches. Video by Emily Michot / Miami Herald
    staff; photos by Patrick Farrell / Miami Herald staff; video of Pope in
    Cuba courtesy of The Archdiocese of Miami

    Starting with John Paul II’s five-day visit to Cuba in January 1998 and
    followed by Pope Benedict XVI’s trip to Santiago and Havana in March
    2012, the papal visits have built on each other as the popes have sought
    to gain more space for the Catholic church, the practice of faith and
    the Cuban people. Wenski expects that will be the case with Francis’
    visit as well.

    Implicit in both Benedict’s and John Paul’s remarks while they were in
    Cuba was the need for reconciliation — between Cubans both on and off
    the island.

    In Benedict’s homilies, he encouraged people to talk to each other, said
    Wenski, and in his farewell address at the airport, he talked about Casa
    Cuba — the Cuban home — as a place where all Cubans should feel at home
    regardless of political or ideological differences.

    “That is a theme that is being spoken about much more, especially with
    the renewal of the relationship between the United States and Cuba,”
    said Wenski. “We see not only a new willingness for engagement and
    dialogue between the United States and Cuba but between Cubans here and
    Cubans there.”

    As he arrived in Cuba in 1998, John Paul uttered these prophetic words:
    “May Cuba, with all its magnificent potential, open itself up to the
    world, and may the world open itself up to Cuba….”

    “The homilies [of John Paul] almost present a road map of what the path
    forward should be,” said Wenski. “John Paul’s visit marks a before and
    after in the relationship of the church and the Cuban government and a
    before and after in a lot of things. The visit of John Paul really
    changed attitudes in the exile community and in Cuba, where his trip was
    a signal that it was safe to go to church again.”

    Cuba was officially an atheist state from 1962 until 1992, and after
    John Paul’s visit, “the church experienced a continuing growth,” said
    Wenski. A seminary, one of the fruits of John Paul’s visit, opened in
    2011. “Most of these seminarians who are studying for the priesthood
    weren’t even Catholic when John Paul II was visiting Cuba,” Wenski said.
    “There was certainly a sea change during his visit.”

    Since then there also has been a sea change in the Cuban exile
    community, as newer waves of Cubans arrive, said Wenski, who not only
    speaks fluent Spanish but is well versed in Cuban slang.

    For John Paul’s visit, Wenski chartered a cruise ship to take South
    Florida pilgrims to Cuba, but there was such an outcry in the community
    — taking a cruise ship was considered frivolous and had the connotation
    of going on vacation — that then-Archbishop John Favalora pulled the
    plug after the ship had already been contracted. A smaller group of
    pilgrims flew to Cuba for the papal Mass.

    “There were people questioning why John Paul was even going to Cuba
    because they feared John Paul would be manipulated by Castro,” said
    Wenski. “Yet this was the same John Paul II who brought down the Iron
    Curtain.”

    Leading the charge against the cruise ship was business executive Carlos
    Saladrigas. “But he watched the papal Mass on television and realized he
    had made a tremendous mistake,” Wenski said.

    Saladrigas, now a proponent of more engagement with Cuba, took part in
    the archdiocese pilgrimage for Benedict’s trip, and he and his wife Olga
    plan to travel to Cuba with the Knights of Malta, a lay religious order,
    because he and Olga also want to take part in the papal Mass in Holguín,
    her hometown. The archdiocese pilgrimage will only go to Havana.

    At a recent symposium on Francis’ visit at Florida International
    University, Wenski and Saladrigas clapped each other on the back.
    Saladrigas said he later told Wenski he was sorry for opposing the
    cruise ship. “I said, ‘Carlos, I am also sorry you opposed the cruise
    ship,’” Wenski said. “But he gave me his blessing anyway,” added Saladrigas.

    “This time I had people asking me if we were taking a cruise ship — even
    people who were against a cruise ship before,” said the archbishop.
    “Some of them were even placing calls to see if they could find a cruise
    ship.” But since the Vatican only announced Francis’ visit in April,
    Wenski said there wasn’t enough time.

    Instead, about 150 pilgrims will accompany Wenski and Cardinal Sean
    O’Malley of Boston on a flight to Havana and about 40 others are making
    other flight arrangements, said Vivian Mannerud, president of Airline
    Line Brokers, which is arranging the archdiocese trip. There’s a waiting
    list of about 100 people, she said, and had there been sufficient hotel
    accommodations in Havana, many more pilgrims would have gone from South
    Florida.

    But there are still contentious issues surrounding the pope’s visit. One
    is whether the pope plans to meet with human rights activists and
    dissidents as they have requested. Pope Benedict chose not to during his
    visit.

    “I think the Holy Father should bear witness to the suffering of the
    Cubans and advise the Castro regime that he — unlike the last pope to
    visit Cuba — will not remain silent if the Castros’ security police
    attempt to prevent human-rights activists, their families and victims of
    the Cuban state’s repression from attending the papal Mass or to punish
    democracy advocates for displaying banners or signs supporting ‘freedom’
    and ‘democracy’ at the mass,” said Frank Calzon, executive director of
    the Center for a Free Cuba.

    “Pope Francis played a role in bringing Washington and Havana together
    to talk. I hope the pope will now ask Fidel’s brother Raúl Castro, the
    president of Cuba, to permit Cubans to gather and talk among themselves
    and convene a formal and free round-table discussion,” he said.

    Wenski said he doesn’t know whether Francis plans to sit down with a
    “specific group” of dissidents. Such a meeting is not currently on the
    pope’s schedule. “I think he will speak his mind and he will speak his
    mind publicly. What he would say if he met with dissidents privately
    wouldn’t be very different from what he says publicly. His public
    message will bring comfort and light to all of Cuba.”

    During a trip to Latin America in July, the pope repeatedly touched on
    serving the poor, more respect for the Earth, the need for dialogue and
    the evils of inequalities caused by rampant capitalism.

    “In Cuba, of course, the issues he raised in Latin America are germane
    as well,” said Wenski, “but he won’t be repeating what he said. If he
    were, there would be no reason for him to go to Cuba. Cuba has some
    unique circumstances and I think he’s going to give a different and
    further message in Cuba.

    “I can’t predict what the Holy Father will say, but I can predict that
    it will be very interesting,” Wenski said.

    Asked if he thought the pope would bring up the U.S. embargo against
    Cuba during his address to Congress, Wenski said the pope may bring up
    many themes from migration and the Middle East to young people and their
    difficult job prospects.

    “If he does address Cuba that will be fine too,” he said. “Now the key
    to lifting the embargo is in Congress’ hands.”

    Wenski himself has been on record against the embargo since the 1990s.
    “I’ve been calling for an end to it for quite a long time and so has the
    church,” he said. “The embargo is a very blunt instrument and it ends up
    hurting innocent people as much or more than the guilty that it is
    designed to punish.

    “Of course over the years in Miami, the embargo has had a different
    symbolism,” he said. “It has come to represent for many people for many
    years that we haven’t surrendered.” But as a policy tool, he said, “it
    hasn’t reached its stated objectives.”

    For early waves of exiles who suffered harassment, humiliation and more
    at the hands of the Castro government, he said, “there are still scars
    that have yet to heal.”

    Meanwhile, he said, the seeds sown during the previous papal visits are
    still bearing fruit. “It’s a slow process, but people in Cuba talk
    about… opening space. The church is always trying to gain more space,
    filling it and not giving it back up.”

    Wenski said he expects it will be “a great uplifting experience to greet
    the Holy Father in Cuba.” But unlike John Paul and Benedict, he said,
    this time it will be a Latin American pope celebrating Mass and
    addressing the Cuban people in his and their native language.

    “Let him loose and let him speak in Spanish,” said Wenski, “and it might
    be even more effective in touching our hearts.”

    WHAT THE POPES SAID IN CUBA
    “Cuba and the world need change, but this will occur only if each one is
    in a position to seek the truth and chooses the way of love, sowing
    reconciliation and fraternity.” — Pope Benedict XVI’s homily during a
    mass before hundreds of thousands in Havana’s Revolution Square, March 2012

    “My best wishes are joined with the prayer that this land may offer
    everyone a climate of freedom, mutual trust, social justice and lasting
    peace. May Cuba, with all its magnificent potential, open itself up to
    the world, and may the world open itself up to Cuba….” — Pope John
    Paul II as he arrived for a five-day visit to Cuba in January 1998

    “From the very first moment of my presence among you, I wish to say with
    the same force as at the beginning of my pontificate: ‘Do not be afraid
    to open your hearts to Christ.’”— John Paul in his arrival speech at
    José Martí International Airport

    Source: Miami archbishop says pope’s visit will help bring Cubans
    together | Miami Herald –
    http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article34107444.html