Pope Francis today ended his latest to a Latin American country earlier today when he left Cuba following a four-day visit. During his time on the island, the Argentine pontiff emphasized messages of reconciliation and brotherhood among residents regardless of their ideological or political beliefs. His choice to steer away from commenting on the persecution of political dissidents and jailing of political prisoners was criticized by some members of the Cuban-American and Cuban exile community. (Though it remains to be seen if Francis during his first-ever visit to the U.S. will be more vocal on issues relating to human rights abuses in Cuba.)
Francis exercised caution in not blatantly speaking out against the Cuban government while on the island, but that stood in contrast to Pope John Paul II’s visit to Nicaragua in 1983. The Central American country was in the early years of a bloody armed conflict between the ruling Sandinista government and the rebel Contras. The war took its toll on the Nicaraguan Catholic Church that split between the hierarchy opposed to the Sandinista rulers and factions in favor of the government’s social and economic reforms.
Tensions between the sides was high in the days prior to the Pope’s visit but it was expected, as was written by one article at the time, that “the Pope will talk in relatively vague terms that both sides will try to use to best advantage.” As seen in the brief video clip below, that notion was put to rest upon his arrival when he publicly admonished Catholic priest and Minister of Culture Ernesto Cardenal:
Lest there were any doubts over his intentions, the Pope then used his homily at a public mass in Managua to blast Cardenal and other clergy turned members of government for ''acting outside or against the will of the bishops.'' He also warned Catholics of the threat caused by “unacceptable ideological commitments” though he was occasionally drowned out by pro-Sandinista chants of ''Popular power!'' and ''We want peace!''
Pope John Paul II’s 1983 trip would ultimately do little to quell the rift among catholic leaders. He would visit Nicaragua once more in 1996 with revolutionary leader Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas out of power, and the return of what he deemed as “authentic religious freedom” to the nation.
Cardenal, meanwhile, left the Sandinista leadership in 1994 to focus on politically charged writing and poetry though he did not regret backing the revolution that toppled the Somoza dictatorship. At a literary forum earlier this month, the 90-year-old criticized Ortega's current stint as Nicaraguan president for amassing “all the powers of the country” and “fabulously enriching himself.”
YouTube Source – Dexter Poindexter
Online Sources (English) - Raw Story, The Guardian, The New York Times, Reuters