Pope Benedict XVI just arrived in Cuba where expectations are high as to what the Pope will say regarding politics and the role of the Church on the island.
“As people who are marginalized, the oppressed, we too have a right to at least one minute with His Holiness,” said Bertha Soler, the head of the Ladies in White dissident group. Soler also remarked that she wants to give the Pope a list of political prisoners “in case there’s a possibility of pardon” much like in the visit of Pope John Paul II to Cuba in 1998.
The Ladies in White held their weekly protest march yesterday without any incidents though a few of them were reportedly detained over the past few days along with over 150 dissidents. Elizardo Sanchez, head of the Cuban Human Rights and National Reconciliation Commission, claimed that those under “preventative detention” are “prohibited from leaving their homes, attending mass or welcoming the Pope on the routes he will take.”
According to Vatican officials, the Pope is not expected to meet with any dissidents and Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi added that there is “no concrete possibility” that the Pope will meet with visiting Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez who is undergoing radiation treatment. The Pope did walk with Cuban President Raul Castro after stepping off his plane, and there is a possibility he could meet with Fidel Castro in Havana.
“For a long time we have been living in a difficult situation facing many problems with few solutions. I believe that the Pope can give hope to the people,” said Father José Conrado Rodríguez, of the Santa Teresita parish in the city of Santiago de Cuba, which is the first stop in the Pope’s visit to Cuba. But it remains to be seen how the Pope will approach the issue of human rights despite the increased importance of the Catholic Church in Cuba:
The Catholic Church, however, is now the most influential independent institution in the country, thanks in no small part to Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the archbishop of Havana. He has negotiated with Raúl Castro for the release of political prisoners, given the government advice on economic policy and allowed church magazines to publish increasingly frank articles about the need for change.The Pope’s visit, which ends on Wednesday, has also caught the attention of Cuban expats residing in the U.S. An Archdiocese of Miami pilgrimage of over 300 people arrived “under tight security” this morning at the same Santiago de Cuba airport where the Pope touched down minutes ago.
Update #1: "I carry in my heart the just aspirations and legitimate desires of all Cubans, wherever they may be," said Pope Benedict XVI in a brief speech after arriving in Santiago de Cuba. He added that he came to Cuba "as a pilgrim of the charity to confirm my brothers in faith and encourage them in hope."
Cuban President Raul Castro welcomed the Pope and also took advantage in his speech to blast the decades-long U.S. embargo against Cuba.
Update #2: Pope Benedict XVI is expected to fly to Havana on Tuesday but not before visiting the shrine to Cuba's patron saint, the Virgin of Charity of Cobre.
As mentioned in the original post, political dissidents on the island are hoping that the Pope can address the repression that they face under the Castro regime. The Vatican continues to deny that the Pope will meet with any opposition activists though it remains to be seen if he will speak about the either publicly or in private.
Meanwhile, police reportedly detained a man who shouted anti-government slogans while the Pope addressed tens of thousands of followers at a mass last night in Santiago de Cuba.
Video Source – YouTube via Al Jazeera English
Online Sources (including Updates) - CBS News, lainformacion.com, euronews, Sky News Australia, Univision.com, Fox News Latino, El Espectador, Miami Herald, euronews