The Church in Cuba was
never strong. But after Fidel Castro turned toward the Soviet Union, the
country was atheist by decree. Not until 1992, did Castro change his tune--as
he has so often to stay in power--and declare the country “secular.” It
was a subtle, but important difference. Party members could go to church,
although few did or do. The fledgling Church remains the only true source
of civil society for Cubans. But the priests and nuns must perform a delicate
balancing act: bring new ideas to a people starved for them, without appearing
political or against the state. Here are some of the many Cuban voices
from three of the Pope’s four masses.
It seems the Cubans don’t know how not to have a political rally. At the
mass in Santa Clara Thursday, catchy socialists chants were just
given a new twist: “John Paul the Second, the whole world loves you!” was
one chant the woman on the loudspeaker led. Then she yelled: Applause for
the Pope! Then there was, “John Paul, our friend, the people are with you!”
For every white and yellow vatican flag, there was another paper Cuban
flag to accompany it. And what rally would be complete without the ever
popular slogan: “You can hear him, you can feel him, the Pope is present!”
At the end of mass, people yelled “Viva el Papa!” Viva! went the reply.
The mass was a far cry from a religious revival. The crowd was a grab bag of militants, Catholics and the curious. When it came time to kneel before communion, the response was spotty. It seemed like it was the occasional older Cuban woman like sixty-year-old Mercedes Bravo from Santa Clara or exiles like Mary Pichardo from Queens who had returned who seemed to sing the loudest and know the refrains. “I’m hoarse from the emotion,’ Bravo says. The printed program for the mass--handed out by local churches in conjunction with the government--was almost a primer: “Mass is the central act of the Christian life” it explained. One little girl sitting on her father’s shoulders looked at the newly constructed chapel in the soccer stadium and noticed all the priests in yellow and white robes. “Are those all the Popes?” she asked her dad.
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