By Yasmin S. Machado Portals

Pope Benedicto XVI

HAVANA TIMES, Nov. 21 — The Vatican announced on Thursday (November 10) that Pope Benedict XVI is preparing for a trip this coming spring to Cuba and Mexico, the only two Latin American countries scheduled for his visit on this occasion.

According to Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega: “The pope “has given priority to Cuba; Mexico was like a debt, but Cuba is a priority.” That statement was made after Ortega announced the papal visit to the congregation of the Jesus de Miramar Church here in the capital.

According the Cubadebate website, the upcoming visit by Pope Benedict XVI to the island was described the following day (Friday) by Cuban Parliament President Ricardo Alarcon as a cause for “great joy” and “an honor.”

For those who might have doubted the sincere enthusiasm of Alarcon (a member of the Politburo of the Cuban Communist Party), the legislator added that the communiqué “frankly caused us great happiness, great joy” and “we expect that he will be received with the hospitality and affection that Cubans feel for him.”

Affection? I imagine that Cubans feel affection for Barak Obama or Hugo Chavez — according to the political side you’re on — but other than the Catholic community, who loves Pope Benedict XVI (born Joseph Ratzinger Aloisius in Bavaria, Germany, on April 16, 1927) on this island?

The speaker of parliament said that we will be honored by the visit since popes don’t change every four years and because they don’t represent a physical nation, implying some mystical experience for everyone involved.

Now at the level of international pedestrian politics we have everything going on here concerning the cessation of discrimination against religious believers (some more than others), the updating of the economic model and the role played by the Cuban Church in serving as a mediator in the release the prisoners of “conscience.” Likewise, since Benedict won’t be removed from his position, unless by death, there are some less fragile promises regarding mutual alignment and support.

According to what the gossips say — as well as my keyboard, which isn’t very good — Benedict XVI and several members of the Cuban government share plenty of life experiences, don’t they?

The humble homes, the struggle for ideals, the joining a social organization that has a utopian vocation and questionable political and economic practices, and are ultimately elected by a select group of very powerful people within that organization for a lifetime appointment. In short, there will be an opportunity to exchange experiences, because the Pope has been in his position for at least six years.

All of this serves to raise the spirits of the Cuban government, I suppose, but how does it translate into the cause celebre for “great joy, great happiness” at the national level? Those who echo Alarcon’s sentiments are trying to explain this in Cubadebate.

These people are either trying to figure out how much exasperation this visit will provoke in Miami — him coming here and not there — or they’re attempting to envision the internal political issues that His Holiness will touch on in his public addresses (those issue of unrestricted travel is a constant Pi these days).

But the truth of the matter is that this Catholic fervor really disturbs me, because I didn’t know that there was another national creed in Cuba other than Marxist-Marti version of socialism.

I confess that the Afro-Cuban saint Santa Barbara comes to my mind whenever it rains, but I think about Eleggua and Yemaya every day; this is because I’m a black woman from the Regla district and because my being an atheist (which is what Lenin hoped of a good communists) is a matter of superior minds in a situation like the one here in Cuba.

I think that whey trying to identify a national religion, no one can deny the role of Santeria, because it’s homegrown, because its symbols and cross cultural biases traverse the common sense of “lo cubano”(what is Cuban) without regard to class, race or gender, and because it’s “popular” – in the best sense of the word. Thus, I feel like someone who sees how ridiculous it is to extend the joy of the Catholic community to the entire nation.

As of Friday (November 11, 2011), by the order of Ricardo Alarcon de Quesada, so that I don’t end up without a nationality, now I’ll have to start rehearsing my springtime smiles — despite how tired I’ll be from participating in the Havana Book Fair for my job — when I’ll have to receive him with “all the hospitality and affection” that I feel for him.

As for me — a feminist, non-heterosexual, practitioner of birth control and an abortion rights supporter, a LGBTI rights activist, a believer in the class struggle and in the right to seize power by violent means — am I or am I not a Cuban for not feeling anything but disgust? I say this as a Cuban “of Cuba,” a Cuban citizen, with a Cuban family and still possessing my ration book.

So let’s see: Why the hell do I have to feel affection for an ex-Nazi who is against condoms, birth control, divorce, mothers with jobs, homosexual heads of households and sexually active LGBTI individuals?

What can be said to the Cuban people by this person who from 1981 to 2005 was the former head of the Inquisition (the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith)? Doesn’t that qualify as interfering in our internal affairs or a questionable analysis of our public policies?

I don’t want their explanation of the pedophilia scandals; what I do want is a realistic policy on sexual diversity within the Church. I don’t want metaphors of divine punishment for reducing love to sex; what I do want is one that clearly states that abstinence or condoms are the responses to AIDS. I don’t want parables about Christian charity; I do want something that offers an alternative to capitalism because, according to Benedict XVI, Marxism failed.

Why does our government continue the game of recognizing the head of a micro-state by conferring him privileges not granted to any other president, prime minister or sovereign leader? – allowing him to speak in public squares and on live TV. Why is it that Catholics can propagate their ideology at the expense of the national budget, transforming the visit of their spiritual leader into a state visit, for which part of the costs are passed on to Cub?

Doesn’t the national budget come from my salary, and my husband’s, my mother’s, my father-in-law’s, my mother-in-law’s and from the taxes paid by my father into ONAT [Cuba’s tax collector]?

I don’t want to pay for security staff, banquets and audio equipment with what should go for medicine, school supplies and athletic fields – just to begin the list. In fact, given the choice, I wouldn’t want to spend money to promote one word of his reactionary and conciliatory preaching, though I would for those of Ernesto Cardenal, Frei Betto, Leonardo Boff or other liberation theologists if they were to pay visits to Havana.

As for Alarcon, with all due respect for his position, I believe I should clarify that I don’t think I’ll be happy even a little bit. So don’t say “We hope to receive him with the hospitality and the affection that Cubans feel for him”? – because I’m a woman.

16 thoughts on “A Pope’s Visit to Cuba: “I’m not celebrating”

  • This is an excellent and thought provoking article. As a person born and raised in the north of Ireland I have lived through a modern day religious war. On one hand we have the British imperialists still retaining control over our country and on the other we have the classic struggle between two set of ideologies, Catholic and Protestant.

    One might think then that the Catholic Church would automatically be on the side of the discriminated and downtrodden Catholic minority and ipso facto, the guerrillas, quite the contrary. The intervention of the Church led to many bitter confrontations within our own Catholic section of the society. This took a number of forms;-

    Priests denouncing the guerrilla from the pulpit which often led to mass walkouts from church services
    priests refusing to administer last rights
    priests refusing burial in certain circumstances
    and for the Hunger Strikers of the 1980’s – the threat of excommunication

    The Catholic Church is tribal, it is without shame, here in North Ireland they actively tried to use their power to enforce their tribal beliefs, often holding out eternal damnation to your soul as the ultimate result of the struggle towards national self determination

    In Cuba now the visit of the head of the church is of little relevance – what is important is the stance and position of Ricardo Alarcon as one of the most powerful members of the PCC. Clearly these words are not representative of the majority of the people and they are at odds with the ideology of the entire State. It appears to me that the Church is taking advantage of the relaxation of the doctrines of the Revolution, for example participating in the release of the prisoners of conscience. It is a snake dormant now raising its head to participate and manipulate to its best advantage.

    Of course taking a facile viewpoint this may simply represent a fundamental need for forgiveness towards the end of ‘Politburo’ life – this may in some way explain why a lifetime communist(s) might grasp futilely at the thorn of Catholicism. 🙂

    Who cares about the popes, they come and go and they are yesterdays imperialist, the stance they have taken covering themselves in opulence and ignoring rampant sexual misconduct within their own house and at the same time promulgating the idea of sex as a dirty act between couples. All along they have aligned themselves with the fascists and the imperialists. The evolution of the revolutionary mindset and the gradual decline of this voodoo form of religious conscription can now be seen for what it is by any thinking person regardless of their belief in any hypothetical type of god.

    Des Donnelly

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