More Opportunities than Conflicts: The Pope Unites Cuba and Miami

By Daniel Garcia Marco (dpa)

Cuba Welcomes Pope Francis.
Cuba Welcomes Pope Francis.

HAVANA TIMES — Medication and rosaries instead of demonstrations and protests. The nearly 200 pilgrims traveling from Miami to Cuba to see Pope Francis represent a new face of Cuba’s émigré community, one that does not see His Holiness’ visit to the island as cause for division but as an opportunity for reconciliation.

The 189 people flying from the US capital of Cuban émigrés carry rosaries they plan to distribute at Havana’s Revolution Square, which is to become the venue of an immense mass this Sunday. They bring a message of brotherhood from Miami that is broken by nearly no voices of criticism.

This scenario is far removed from the atmosphere that prevailed prior to Pope John Paul II’s visit to Cuba in 1998, when some 10,000 people took to the streets of Miami to protest his visit and Archbishop Thomas Wensky’s proposal of chartering a cruiser that would take pilgrims across the Strait of Florida.

“There were fears that he [the Pope] would be manipulated by the communists, but I believe there were positive results. Those who had objections changed their point of view,” Wensky said last week. As during John Paul II’s and Benedict XVI’s visit in 2012, Wensky is leading the pilgrimage this year.

“The Church in Cuba wants a transition, but it also wants a peaceful landing,” he stated, giving voice to the pragmatism that has always characterized the Church and which appears to have taken root in the émigré community, increasingly less radical and mainly in agreement with the rapprochement between the United States and Cuba.

“The strategy of the émigré community has been misguided,” Maria, a 69-year-old pilgrim who prefers not to use her real name until she has returned from Cuba, tells DPA.

When she left the island at the young age of 14, Maria was a Catholic (and still is today). Despite her criticisms of Raul Castro’s government, she acknowledges some positive changes (“the Church is gaining ground”) and has decided to take advantage of this opportunity to contribute to this reconciliation, most likely the main message that Pope Francis will deliver tomorrow.

Maria will travel with her three sons who, at the age of 42, 41 and 37, have never once been to Cuba, their parents’ native country (and even objected to their mother’s first visit to the island three years ago). In addition to seeing the Pope, the trip will serve to shorten the gap that has divided Cuban families for decades.

When she left the island at the young age of 14, Maria was a Catholic (and still is today). Despite her criticisms of Raul Castro’s government, she acknowledges some positive changes (“the Church is gaining ground”)

Felice Gorordo was among those who could not bear the distance. “At age 18, I had an identity crisis and traveled to Cuba,” the US-born child of Cuban parents tells DPA. “It was a personal pilgrimage to rediscover my roots and meet the relatives who stayed, to reconcile relatives here and there,” he says, preparing for his weekend trip to the island to see Francis.

This time around, he will travel with his mother, who has put aside her reservations and will return to Cuba for the first time in 46 years. “Even my parents have evolved,” says the 37-year-old Gorordo, referring to changes in Miami’s Cuban community.

Gorordo, who promotes US-Cuba relations through the organization Raices de Esperanza (“Roots of Hope”) does not expect Pope Francis to deliver a political message against the Castro government.

Maria, by contrast, does want the pontiff to become involved with dissidents and the struggle for human rights. “He has to say something. Let’s hope it’s a little stronger than what he said when he traveled to Latin America,” she says.

Renowned Miami-based émigré Ramon Saul Sanchez also wants a clearly stated position. Sanchez has declared a “conscience strike” to ask the Pope to help end the separation of families, so well-illustrated by the trip of the pilgrims this weekend.

“The Pope is welcome. It’s good for him to go to Cuba, but the Cuban people are suffering and it would be good if he could find the way to alleviate this suffering,” Sanchez, who does not want his actions to be interpreted as a protest or accusation but rather as an appeal addressed to the Pope, the United States, the European Union and the Cuban government, tells DPA.

“It is not a coercive measure,” the activist stresses, seeking to draw attention to the issue of family reunification that the Pope is already in a way favoring with his trip, without pronouncing a single word.