Pope warns about ‘fa­nati­cism’

Be­fore im­age of Gue­vara, pon­tiff also urges end of U.S. em­bargo

The Washington Times Daily - - World - BY NI­COLE WIN­FIELD AND

HA­VANA | Pope Bene­dict XVI de­manded greater free­dom for the Catholic Church in Cuba dur­ing Mass be­fore hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple Wed­nes­day in the shrine of the is­land’s com­mu­nist rev­o­lu­tion, de­nounc­ing “fa­nati­cism” that tries to im­pose its truth on oth­ers.

Bene­dict’s un­usu­ally politi­cized homily was a not-so-sub­tle jab at Cuba’s lead­er­ship be­fore a vast crowd in Rev­o­lu­tion Plaza.

But he also used plain lan­guage to urge an end to Cuba’s iso­la­tion, a ref­er­ence to the 50-year U.S. eco­nomic em­bargo and the in­abil­ity of 11 Amer­i­can pres­i­dents and broth­ers Fidel and Raul Cas­tro to forge peace.

“Cuba and the world need change, but this will oc­cur only if each one is in a po­si­tion to seek the truth and chooses the way of love, sow­ing rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and fra­ter­nity,” he said.

With the coun­try’s lead­er­ship lis­ten­ing from front-row seats, Bene­dict is­sued his strong­est de­nun­ci­a­tion of re­li­gious in­tol­er­ance yet in Cuba, re­fer­ring to the bib­li­cal ac­count of how peo­ple per­se­cuted by the Baby­lo­nian king “pre­ferred to face death by fire rather than be­tray their con­science and their faith.”

He said peo­ple find free­dom when they seek the truth that Chris­tian­ity of­fers.

“On the other hand, there are those who wrongly in­ter­pret this search for the truth, lead­ing them to ir­ra­tional­ity and fa­nati­cism. They close them­selves up in ‘their truth’ and try to im­pose it on oth­ers,” he said from the al­tar in the shadow of the im­age of Cuba’s rev­o­lu­tion hero Ernesto “Che” Gue­vara.

How much the pope’s mes­sage res­onated with or­di­nary Cubans in the plaza or those lis­ten­ing on state tele­vi­sion is un­clear.

Many in the crowd had trou­ble hear­ing him over the loud­speak­ers, and oth­ers said it was hard to un­der­stand the dense bib­li­cal mes­sage de­liv­ered by the pope in a soft voice.

“I don’t un­der­stand this Mass at all. I don’t have an ed­u­ca­tion in these things and I know noth­ing about re­li­gion,” said Mario Men­dez, a 19-year-old com­mu­ni­ca­tions stu­dent. “On top of that, I can’t hear any­thing.”

Bene­dict didn’t cite the gov­ern­ment by name, but later in his homily urged Cuban au­thor­i­ties to let the church more freely preach its mes­sage and ed­u­cate its young in the faith in schools and uni­ver­si­ties — some­thing that has been for­bid­den since the Cas­tros came to power a half­cen­tury ago.

“It must be said with joy that in Cuba steps have been taken to en­able the church to carry out her es­sen­tial mis­sion of ex­press­ing her faith openly and pub­licly,” he said. “Nonethe­less this must con­tinue for­ward” for the good of Cuban so­ci­ety.

Shortly af­ter the Mass, Bene­dict met for about half an hour with Fidel Cas­tro, a Je­suit-ed­u­cated al­tar boy-turned-rev­o­lu­tion­ary leader whose 1998 host­ing of Pope John Paul II marked a turn­ing point in the church’s re­la­tions with Cuba.

Nuns wait with oth­ers in the crowd gath­ered for the pope’s ar­rival at Rev­o­lu­tion Square. The pon­tiff urged greater free­dom of re­li­gion for Cubans.

Eye­shades with the name of the pon­tiff were worn by many present for the Mass. Pope Bene­dict XVI con­cluded his visit to Cuba on Wed­nes­day.

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