Pope Francis received the family of deceased Cuban dissident leader Oswaldo Payá Wednesday and discussed the state of the Catholic Church in Cuba as well as the “Cuban reality” facing those living in the communist nation, according to Payá’s daughter Rosa María Payá.
According to Miami’s El Nuevo Herald, the private audience with Payá’s widow, daughter, and sons lasted about 23 minutes and included a discussion on the political reality of the nation. Payá was killed in 2012 in what the Cuban government deemed a car accident, along with fellow dissident Harold Cepero. His family has remained steadfast in accusing the Cuban government of causing the accident, and Rosa María Payá writes on Twitter that the family expressed their grievances about “the attack against my father and Harold” to the Pope.
She writes also that they spoke of “repression against opposition” in Cuba and “Cuban reality,” as well as the state of the Catholic Church there. She notes that Pope Francis was very receptive to the democratic needs of Cubans on the island and “recognized the Cubans (sic) right to decide.”
We talk to the Pope the need for free and pluralistic elections in Cuba.Pope recognized the Cubans right to decide. pic.twitter.com/iOV4RlfjBY
— Rosa María Payá A. (@RosaMariaPaya) May 14, 2014
The Payá family left Cuba after the death of their father and husband and currently live in Miami, where they continue to engage in activism against the communist dictatorship. Payá rose to prominence as the leader of the Christian Liberation Movement in Cuba, promoting the Catholic Church, whose position in Cuba is tenuous given the leadership’s Marxist ideology, and as the head of the Varela Project, a series of proposed reforms that would have expanded free speech and association rights for all Cubans as well as the right to participate in the political process. The government responded to the project with the violent repression of its members and the arrest of dozens considered political dissidents.
This is the second major gesture in favor of the Cuban dissident community from Pope Francis, who has come under fire for some favorable comments towards wealth redistribution but has eschewed the politicization of Christianity. Last year, the Pope met with the leader of the Ladies in White Cuban dissident group Berta Soler and received from her two letters from the wives of political prisoners. The Ladies in White formed from a group of women whose husbands, fathers, and brothers were detained for political reasons and who continued to march once their relatives were released in the name of those political prisoners remaining behind bars.