Max J. Castro (Progeso Weekly)
HAVANA TIMES — It was clear from the start that Pope Francis would be a refreshing change from previous popes under which the Catholic Church seemed most concerned about sexual mores, reaffirming dogma, and maintaining the power and monolithic unity of the institution and the faith.
When, after all, has a Pope ever said “whom am I too judge,” especially when speaking about the question of homosexuality? Infallible, often implacable, judgment has been the stock-in-trade of popes – until now.
But Pope Francis has turned out to be much more than merely refreshing. He has spoken so much truth to power that in a short time he has become astonishingly popular with common people all over the world and a big headache for upholders of the injustice of the status quo who benefit from the vast inequality of wealth and power of our time.
To be sure, both Pope Jean-Paul II and Pope Benedictine XVI spoke out on behalf of the poor and against the excesses of what Jean-Paul once described as “savage capitalism.” But Pope Francis not only picked up where they left off, he has taken things to an entirely new level. In the process, he has become the worst nightmare for hard-core conservatives from Washington to Jerusalem to Miami to the executive suites of corporations that reap profits by despoiling the environment.
Pope Francis hasn’t taken on small or short-lived problems either, nor has he avoided irritating elements of the Catholic fold. Take Cuba. For more than five decades U.S. policy against the country has been almost pathologically hostile. Yet the policy stuck, with hardly any visible means of support, except one: the political power and will of an entrenched lobby of hard-line Cuban-Americans, many of them Catholic.
The sudden announcement that the United States would resume diplomatic relations with Cuba and that the Obama administration would pressure Congress to end the embargo came as a huge shock to this sector of the exiles. The revelation that Pope Francis had played an important role in bringing the two sides together had to be felt like an additional twist of the knife.
The role of Pope Francis was an especially bitter pill. Betrayal has been a recurring motif in the dominant exile narrative for decades. Betrayed by Fidel Castro who turned out to be a communist rather than just a social reformer. Betrayed by John F. Kennedy at the Bay of Pigs and again during the Missile Crisis. Betrayed by Janet Reno and the Clinton administration in the Elian melodrama. Betrayed by Obama who changed Cuba policy in a heartbeat while the exiles were left in the dark. And now betrayed even by the Pope, who helped engineer the current thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations!
How much betrayal can an exile community take before it implodes with rage or, as seems to have happened with many younger Cuban Americans and recent arrivals, comes to it senses and adopts a different narrative?
Amid the current celebration of recent changes in policies and attitudes, let’s not forget history and those who had it right all along. As far back as the early 1970s a small but not insignificant number of Cubans, at their peril, began to express their rejection of the exile narrative. They included the young people who joined the Antonio Maceo Brigade and traveled to Cuba plus students and intellectuals who were not part of the Brigade but shared some or most of its vision. We were the precursors. Peace of mind, family ties, jobs, careers, homes, and even lives were sacrificed in that struggle, which has now been vindicated.
Francis now has waded into even more fiercely contested ground than Cuba. The origins of the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict precede the Cuban revolution by more than a decade. Recently, the Vatican announced that it would sign a treaty recognizing Palestine as a state. This outraged the Israeli government, which holds a Palestinian state can only come to being through direct negotiations between the two sides. But what has become clear over the decades to everyone except the United States, which takes an “Israel right or wrong position” every time, is that the best the Israelis might be willing to do would be a deal as brazenly unfair as the power of the two sides is awesomely unequal. No wonder they told the Pope to “stay out of politics.” They don’t want third parties to weigh in and make the balance a little less uneven.
On this one too the Vatican is on the right side. Palestinians deserve a state they can feel proud of, not just an entity called a state that exists at the pleasure of and under the supervision of Israel. And, personally, I can’t help feeling that anything that incurs the wrath of the insufferable Benjamin Netanyahu – except, of course, any kind of terrorism or anti-Semitism – has got to be a good thing.
To top it all off, I was stunned when I read this in the May 13 edition of the Miami Herald: “Pope Francis warned the rich and powerful on Tuesday that God will judge them on whether they fed the poor and cared for the Earth…”
I am not a believer, but I admire a man who would try to put the fear of God in the hearts of the self-proclaimed masters of the universe.