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

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

  • Good for you! We’re having religion forced down our throats in the U.S. I wouldn’t go across the street to see this man, especially.

  • “We need the Pope’s visit to get free from any kind of imperialism. or liberal ideologues”


    The Vatican is imperialist.
    It spreads throughout the world and its rule is and must be unquestioned. It is undemocratic (total rule from the top) misogynist (women are second-class: denied birth control, abortion, priesthood ) .
    It has legions of pederasts that not only go unpunished but who are moved around by the Vatican top people to avoid punishment and church complicity in child rape..
    The Pope and the RCC do not represent freedom but have everything to do with repression.

    Answer me this: Would you leave your young boy child overnight with a Roman Catholic priest?

    How in the world can you justify support of a church that sits on billions of dollars while millions of children starve to death in the world?

    I ‘ll wait for your response.

  • I sincerely hope that the Pope’ visit to Cuba will be positive and beneficial

    Sincerely ,
    .Robert Cowdery

  • The author of the article about the forthcoming visit of Pope Benedict XVI is confused by his liberal Marxist views.
    Religious people in Cuba- Christians and Jews alike- have suffered a lot under Communism.
    The Pope represents the real free world! His visit cannot be confused by people who have been confused by Marxism and Globalism or American liberals. We need the Pope’s visit to get free from any kind of imperialism. or liberal ideologues. Barry

  • Hubert,
    Ratzinger should not be blamed for what he did as a sixteen year old when it was an acceptable and/or compulsory thing to do.

    As an old man and having spent his adult life in the RCC he is guilty of at least living in opulence while tens of millions of children in the world die of starvation.

    What would Jesus think were he to return to Earth, visit the Vatican built to worship him and see the splendor that costs millions all the while children die of starvation? .

    The Pope is the head of a counter revolutionary Church. The RCC has both supported just about every right wing dictatorship that has existed while at the same time opposing the secular socialist movements that more closely follow the teachings of Christ than does the Vatican which only provides lip service..

    I can certainly generalize about believing in things based on nothing but legend, myths and Bronze Age morality, things that are contrary to logic and science and things which, under the pain of eternal fire and brimstone, must not be questioned.

    Christopher Hitchens rightfully calls the so-called kingdom of Heaven a “celestial North Korea “; the ultimate dictatorship wherein you must both love and fear the leader, where that leadership is and must be unquestioned. In North Korea however, at least when you die the leadership leaves you alone.
    Not so with the Church. Die out of favor with the Church and it’s an eternity of torture AFTER death.
    Do you teach your kids this crap?

    Yes, I can generalize.
    The beliefs of the RCC are anti-social idiocy.
    The world would have been far better off without any of the religions that came out of the Middle East

    Sell the Vatican. Feed the world.

  • When Ratzinger became Pope, I was shocked. I am not a supporter of him. Having said that, he was 18 when he the war ended. At 16 he was drafted into the army. The Nazis shot deserters and conscientious objectors. Previously he was drafted into the Hitler Youth, effectively as compulsory, if not more, as the Cuban youth is expected to join the Young Pioneers. A disabled relative of him was murdered by the Nazis. There are many radical Catholics, not least in the US. Think of the Berrigan brothers or the Catholic Worker movement. Careful with generalisations, please.

  • Its a visit by the Pope which will benefit all Cuba people, that’s it. Nothing else is important, be a good host and let it play out!! I am not a Catholic and go very seldome to Church!

  • Dylan,

    Would you leave your twelve year old son alone with a Catholic priest ?

    It is noted that you prefer to use ad hominems rather than try to contest the facts in the comments with which you disagreed.

    Your sophomoric screed could have been lifted verbatim from anti-intellectual U.S right wing talk radio.

    Do learn how to spell Engels.

  • Is this article for real? I don’t think that I have read anything this delusional or paranoid since I stumbled upon a load of pot-smoking free loaders at my university! lol.

    Wow – and here was I thinking that nutters like the author of this piece and those who have commented thus far didn’t really exist in reality. Frightening.

    Let’s hope you join the real world sometime before it’s too late, and – if I were you – I’d put down the bizarre fables of Marx and Engles along with the pretty powerful stuff it look like you’ve been smoking.

    I know it’s pointless pointing out reality to some of the commentators on here… You’re all as deluded and self-righteous as the weirdest of brain-washing cults. How sad – blinded to your own weakness by immense egos and arrogance.

    May the good and peace-loving people of Cuba be set free from crazy hate-filled lunatics like you.

  • Michael,

    The Church is based on myths, legends, Bronze Age morality, a Bible that is written long after the events it describes happened and a hodge-podge of a few MEN’s thinking about what morality is.
    That sort of atavistic thinking has no part in a civilized world and certainly not in a socialist world

    In order for the ludicrous beliefs of the Church to be carried on through the ages it was and is necessary for the priests and, more importantly, the parents to have to lie to their young children about the nonsense in the Bible and to brainwash them from the young age when they are carried to Church in their mother’s arms.

    That many nominal Catholics still go to church but practice birth control and in many other things like adultery, lying, killing pick and choose which precepts and commandments they will obey only points out the emptiness, the meaninglessness of the entire structure.

    Wouldn’t it be far better to put one’s time, money and efforts into a charitable organization for which one is not constantly having to apologize.?

    It is not a harmless belief but a curse on humanity.

    The CIA and the Nazis also has and had people who just did the typing and filing and the good things that governments need done but I wouldn’t tell my kids to join those groups.

    Any priest or nun can find any number of charitable institutions in which to serve the poor without having to join the Church of the Pederasts, serve in the dictatorship of the Pope, support misogyny, support a church that holds billions of dollars while tens of millions die of poverty, and support a church hierarchy in Vatican splendor.

    It’s not that the Church is a good institution that does a few bad things.
    It is based on too much foolishness that must not be questioned and is responsible for too much evil in the world to be let off the hook that easily.

    YouTube carries a great many of the Christopher Hitchens vs. the world anti-theist debates in which he makes a great many points covered in his book: “God Is Not Great: How religion Poisons Everything”
    that are worth watching.

    This is one of them: Just try to get any observant Catholic to watch the entire twelve minutes or so .
    They most often will not or cannot do so and when they do cannot answer the questions implicit in what Hitchens says..


  • Thank You, Yasmin! Somebody had to say it!! I certainly do not see it as progress when the supposed Revolutionary government goes groveling before the “masters of old” for approval.

  • I think both Yasmin S. Machado Portalis and John Goodrich paint the Chuch with too broad a stroke. Although there is much wrong with The Church (and I, as a life-long dialectual materialist, and hence athiest, know all too well its failings), still there are many priests, nuns and members of the laity who are selfless volunteers who accomplish much good. (e.g. one of my wife’s cousins is a nun who runs a shelter in N.Y.C. for women fleeing their abusers) Also, I know many nominal Catholics who–like many Protestant friends–have long since stopped believing in the supernatural mumbo-jumbo, who who still attend mass, or church, weekly due to a sense of community and cultural continuity. (I’d rather spend Sunday morning reading in bed or surfing the net! My wife, on the other hand, attends a left-liberal offshoot of Protestantism whose conception of God, I laughlingly put it, “Is a big social worker in the sky!” Besides, with the tremendous sense of GUILT which the Church instills, where would have of our literature and art be? (e.g. the glorious films of Felini!)

  • Cuba is supposed to think in a logical socialist manner. This should involve an affinity for democracy admittedly lacking in the present government and economy and a rational approach to things.

    The Roman Catholic Pedophile Church is the antithesis of all progressive movements.

    Many of its priests in Cuba during the revolution came from Franco’s Spain and were both pro-fascist (as was the church during Hitler’s run-up to power and after the war when it “rescued” Nazi war criminals ) and anti-socialist. The worked hand in hand with Batista’s people, the entrenched dictatorship as the church does in almost every revolutionary struggle. The church forced many revolutionary priests to either stop helping the poor; the revolutionaries or get out of the Church rather than helping the poor and oppressed as Christ’s teachings would have them do.

    It is based on a fraud -the virgin birth, the resurrection, the concept of vicarious redemption and a host of other beliefs based on ancient myths and scriptures written by culturally primitive people.

    The church like all religions arising in the Middle East is misogynist, not allowing women to become priests.

    It is homophobic except where male child rape by its priests is concerned.

    It practices the greatest sexual perversion of all, total abstinence.

    It is, as noted in the article, totalitarian sharing the Cuban form of a hierarchy selecting the top man to lead with minimal input from the followers.

    It is immensely hypocritical.
    It sits on billions of dollars while tens of millions of poor have and will starve to death yearly which clearly flies in the face of Christ’s admonishment that the rich man will not enter heaven and Christ’s teaching that helping the poor should be everyone’s priority (and not palatial Vaticans).

    As has also been pointed out, having the anti-commmunist head of a church popular in the U.S. and a big part of the Western countries visit a Cuba threatened by the majority of Catholic countries is more or less a political necessity. If, by visiting Cuba, the Pope is thought by the U.S public to be saying that Cuba is acceptable to him, that view would help soften the anti-Cuban vies of many catholic people in the U.S and the world.

    Yes, his visit wastes scarce funds that would be best spent on helping the people of Cuba and the Church is an immoral force in the world (but one that is accepted by most religious believers as a force for good) but this is one compromise that may be necessary and considered acceptable since it confers nothing but official welcome.

    The true socialists, democrats, believers in sexual and gender equality and those who refuse to accept myth and mumbo-jumbo as truth will know that the Pope’s visit is only a part of the struggle in the 50 year war being waged by the undemocratic capitalists forces of the West.

    A necessary evil.

    Cubans: Hide your children. The priests are coming.

  • This essay reflects a narrow-minded failure to grasp Cuba’s political situation. The visit is a continuation of the visits to Cuba by Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Bertone, the Vatican foreign minister.

    The writer omits Washington’s relentless campaign to vilify and isolate Cuba, and to discourage people visiting. The Pope’s visit, is a positive response by the Vatican to an invitation from Cuba following the Pope’s installation. It represents a further blow against Washington.

    You would think from this that public figures who don’t agree with the Cuban government’s FAVORABLE policies toward gays, toward abortion rights and toward the public distribution of condoms to fight sexually-transmitted diseases should not be invited to visit.

    And if they do visit, the critic would insist that the visitor not be allowed to give public speeches unless they agree with the Cuban government’s progressive approach. And if these invited figures might draw a crowd, the critic resents any spending to provide security for the visitor.

    When Jimmy Carter came to Cuba in 2002, security was provided. He addressed the Cuban people, in Spanish, live on Cuban TV. Was Cuba wrong to do that? When Chavez, or Evo, or Lula or Cristina Fernandez or Hu Jintao come to Cuba, they get the red carpet. Why shouldn’t the Pope, who is also the head of a sovereign state, be welcomed?

    You don’t have to like the Catholic Church, not an admirable institution, but a sovereign state with continuous relations with Cuba since 1935, to recognize this projected visit as being a positive move for Cuba.

    You don’t need a meteorologist to know which way the wind blows, but this is a perfect example of the old Maoist view of such expressions as being “left in form, right in essence”. When the Pope does come, let’s hope that the critic saves her grousing for home viewing in front of her TV set.

  • brilliant. if i were a cuban i would be appalled at having to spend public money on mr. rattzinger.
    i would even go a bit further than Yasmin and denounce any public money from being spent on ANY religious leader paying a visit to the island, be they hard right catholic or left liberation theologin. they would all be welcome to come and “preach” but on their own dime.
    i do understand the cuban govt wanting to host a papal visit for the world to see, and it may possibly do some good as far as the pope being able to ask the world to open up to cuba but i would not be able to tolerate spending money from an already stagnant economy on any “faith based” type of stuff.

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