ROME — Pope Francis asserted his closeness to the people of Cuba Sunday, but steered clear of condemning the beatings and mass arrests perpetrated by communist officials to stifle protests.
I am “near to the dear Cuban people in these difficult moments, in particular to those families suffering the most,” the pontiff said following his weekly Angelus message in Saint Peter’s Square.
“I pray that the Lord might help the nation construct a society that is more and more just and fraternal through peace, dialogue and solidarity,” he continued. “I urge all Cubans to entrust themselves to the maternal protection of the Virgin Mary of Charity of Cobre. She will accompany them on this journey.”
A number of Cuban expatriates gathered in the Vatican Sunday to express their distress over the situation in their homeland, calling for people to notice what is going on and to take action.
“We are here for the freedom of Cuba, because we need a change,” said one Cuban woman, who asked that for her safety only her first name “Deborah” be used, Crux reported. “There are many people missing, and they are not telling the truth.”
The Cubans who had gathered in Saint Peter’s Square waved flags, and sported red and blue tee-shirts or white ones, in protest of Cuba’s Communist regime. They also carried a sign asking for God to “come to us in these moments of anguish, sustain our beloved country, may our nation not fall on mourning. Have mercy of Cuba.”
“The entire people is under house arrest,” said a young man who goes by Jonathan. “People have been locked in their homes by police forces answering to a leader who is afraid of his own people. Cubans, led by the younger generations have woken up, and we need not only the government, but also the world, to realize that this could be a turning point.”
“Those of us who are outside are currently being threatened by the government: we won’t be allowed to go back home, and our families might lose what little they have if we even tried to go back,” he said.
Among the many victims of police brutality was a Cuban Catholic priest named Father Castor José Álvarez Devesa, who was beaten by police, stripped him, and dragged him through the streets in his native Camagüey.
For his part, Pope Francis avoided criticizing the communist government or praising the pro-democracy protesters, the same tack he has taken when dealing with other communist and socialist regimes, such as China and Venezuela.