While en route to Mexico and Cuba on Friday, Pope Benedict XVI commented, about Communist Cuba, “Today it is evident that Marxist ideology in the way it was conceived no longer corresponds to reality. In this way, we can no longer respond and build a society.”
Following in the steps of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict, 84, is scheduled to be in Cuba on Monday. The pope's comments reflect both the Church’s long history in the fight against communism and his predecessor’s words 14 years ago during his revolutionary trip to Cuba.
Some have wondered if the pontiff’s critical words about communism are well-timed, given the fact that the Church and the Cuban government have been increasingly “on speaking terms” of late. However, in Havana, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez responded openly, “We will listen with all respect to His Holiness.”
Whether the pope’s visit to Cuba, however, will be influential in guiding the government away from communism is another story. Part of the longstanding difficulty is the Cuban government’s refusal to recognize the relationship between a communist form of government and the dire economic conditions that exist on the island. In 2010, former Cuban President Fidel Castro commented that the “Cuban model doesn't even work for us anymore,” a statement he later denied meant that communism had failed, but, rather, that his country’s economic system needed improvement.
Though Elizardo Sanchez, of the Independent Cuban Commission on Human Rights, lauds the pope’s demonstration of the “good will of the Catholic Church and, especially, Pope Benedict XVI about the situation in Cuba,” he admits that he doubts the visit would bring about much change in his country’s government.
Pope Benedict’s comments anticipating his visit to Cuba reflected a Church that always promotes freedom, a theme that seemed to echo not only a challenge to Cuba’s government, but also to the Obama administration’s recent mandate forcing the free provision of contraceptives, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs. Asked about the defense of human rights, the pope responded, "It is obvious that the Church is always on the side of freedom, on the side of freedom of conscience, of freedom of religion, and we contribute in this sense."
Pope John Paul II made his historic journey to Cuba in 1998, following his instrumental role a decade earlier, in conjunction with President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of Great Britain, in bringing about the end of Soviet-led communism. Pope John Paul’s significant part in the demise of the Soviet Union led Mrs. Thatcher, while visiting his tomb in 2009, to remark that if it were not for John Paul II, Soviet communism would still be with us.