The Pope in Cuba
by P.F. Bentley
The Pope arrives in Santa Clara.
The Story Behind the Picture by P.F. Bentley
The day before the Pope arrived in Santa Clara I saw this house with a raised front porch on the street where the Popemobile would be driving in to the mass.. I asked the owner if I could stay on their front porch for the arrival. They said it was okay with them if it was okay with the local police who had taken over the house. I left my card  and told them I'd be back the next morning at 5:30AM. Not only did I get the position, but the police didn't allow any other press on the premises. The pope arrived at 10:00AM, his hand went up, and I took the frame. Four and a half hours of waiting for a few seconds of opportunity.
        For more than 1,000 Cuban exiles returning home last week, memory was a jigsaw puzzle of lost relatives and forgotten places. Alicia Rodriguez-Bower was one of many piecing together her past after a 36-year-absence. On an index card the 47-year-old from Fort Wayne, Indiana had written the names of all the sites she could remember as a little girl: the private school her mother ran, the pharmacy her uncle owned, their country house. She clung to black and white snapshots from 1955 and tried to match them up with reality. There were many mismatches. Her mother’s school--renamed for a martyred sugarcane worker--wouldn’t let her take photos or even go inside. She gazed at an enormous tree still standing in the cracked courtyard and sighed: “My mother wrote a poem about that tree. I wish she could be here to see it.” Her mother is not dead. She’s stayed angry at Fidel Castro and vows not to return until he’s gone. That’s why Rodriguez asked her husband to wait until she’d arrived to break it to her mother that she’d gone back to Cuba.
        Although the Pope preached reconciliation, his visit to Cuba split families and exposed a rift as wide as the Florida straits within the exile community. Elena Freyre and her husband Pedro wrote dueling op-eds for the Miami Herald. She returned. He didn’t. “I wish I could go with you,” Pedro told his wife as she left, but the memory of the brother killed in Cuba held him back. Political pressure against making the trip complicated the personal decision for the nearly one and a half million Cubans in the United States. John Paul II pins and carry-on bags stuffed with bright plastic-bead rosaries gave away the true religious pilgrims. But there were other secular Cubans toting grab-bags of medicine who used the papal visit to go home legally behind the shield of spirituality. The exiles bear-hugged cousins they didn’t recognize, videotaped their crumbling homes and cried over the stolen marble headstones at Colon Cemetery. The visit started the healing process for exiled Cubans, but the Pope’s message of forgiveness may find more takers in Cuba than in Miami.
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