Cuban eco­nomic czar rules out po­lit­i­cal re­form dur­ing pope’s visit

The Washington Times Daily - - World - BY AN­DREA RO­DRIGUEZ AND

HA­VANA | Pope Bene­dict XVI stressed themes of free­dom and change as he prayed be­fore a pow­er­ful sym­bol of the Cuban na­tion ahead of a visit with the is­land’s pres­i­dent on Tues­day.

Com­mu­nist lead­ers had a quick re­sponse: no to po­lit­i­cal re­form.

Bene­dict vis­ited the shrine of the na­tion’s pa­tron saint, the Vir­gin of Char­ity of Co­bre, and spent mo­ments in prayer be­fore the diminu­tive wooden statue.

“I have en­trusted to the Mother of God the fu­ture of your coun­try, ad­vanc­ing along the ways of re­newal and hope, for the greater good of all Cubans,” the pope said at the sanc­tu­ary in the lit­tle town of El Co­bre, out­side of San­ti­ago.

“I have also prayed to the Vir­gin for the needs of those who suf­fer, of those who are de­prived of free­dom, those who are sep­a­rated from their loved ones or who are un­der­go­ing times of dif­fi­culty.”

Marino Murillo, Cuba’s eco­nomic czar and a vice pres­i­dent on Pres­i­dent Raul Cas­tro’s coun­cil of min­is­ters, soon made it clear that of­fi­cials would not be re­spond­ing with any po­lit­i­cal changes.

While the coun­try is shak­ing up its econ­omy, he told a room full of jour­nal­ists cov­er­ing the pope, “in Cuba there will not be po­lit­i­cal re­form.”

At El Co­bre, the pope point­edly re­ferred to the Vir­gin by her pop­u­lar name, La Mam­bisa, in a gesture to the many non-catholics on the is­land who nonethe­less ven­er­ate the statue as an Afro-cuban de­ity.

Mam­bisa is the word for the Cuban fight­ers who won in­de­pen­dence from Spain at the turn of the last cen­tury.

In sub­tle ways, the pope has ac­knowl­edged a lack of faith in what is Latin Amer­ica’s least Catholic coun­try, and tried to make his trip ap­peal­ing to po­ten­tial be­liev­ers.

The visit is timed for the 400th an­niver­sary of the ap­pear­ance of the statue of the Vir­gin to two fish­er­men and an African slave in Cuba’s Bay of Hipe.

Du­nia Felip­illo, 45, said she was proud to see the pope pray­ing be­fore the Vir­gin of Char­ity, even though she her­self was not Catholic.

“We all ask fa­vors of la Ca­chita,” she said, us­ing the Cuban slang for the Vir­gin, as she watched the cer­e­mony on TV from the lobby of a San­ti­ago ho­tel.

Bene­dict’s fre­quent ref­er­ences to the Vir­gin are also a way of hit­ting on some­thing the church shares with Cuba’s non­re­li­gious lead­ers and his wider au­di­ence, in con­trast to the church’s po­si­tions on di­vorce and abor­tion, not to men­tion his past strong com­ments against Marx­ism.

While most Cubans are nom­i­nally Catholic, fewer than 10 per­cent prac­tice the faith.

“I ap­peal to you to rein­vig­o­rate your faith . . . that you may strive to build a re­newed and open so­ci­ety, a bet­ter so­ci­ety, one more wor­thy of hu­man­ity,” he said Mon­day at a Mass in the nearby city of San­ti­ago.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pope Bene­dict XVI is greeted by chil­dren dur­ing his visit to the sanc­tu­ary of the Vir­gin of Char­ity of Co­bre, Cuba’s pa­tron saint, in the lit­tle town of El Co­bre, out­side of San­ti­ago, on Tues­day. Bene­dict is on the sec­ond day of his Cuban tour.

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