Pope urges fur­ther rec­on­cil­i­a­tion

Hope­ful as Cuba, U.S. draw closer

SundayXtra - - WORLD - By Michael Weis­senstein and Ni­cole Win­field

HA­VANA — Pope Fran­cis urged the Cuban and U.S. gov­ern­ments to push ahead on their newly forged path to­ward nor­mal re­la­tions, say­ing they should “de­velop all its pos­si­bil­i­ties” as he ar­rived Satur­day on the first leg of a trip to the Cold War foes pa­pal diplo­macy helped bring to­gether.

Stand­ing on the tar­mac of Ha­vana’s José Marti air­port, Fran­cis called the re­sump­tion of full diplo­matic ties be­tween the United States and Cuba this year an “ex­am­ple of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion for the en­tire world.”

The Pope wrote a per­sonal ap­peal to pres­i­dents Barack Obama and Raul Cas­tro and hosted their del­e­ga­tions at a se­cret meet­ing at the Vat­i­can last year to seal a deal af­ter 18 months of closed­door ne­go­ti­a­tions. Since then, the two lead­ers have re­opened em­bassies in each other’s coun­tries, held a per­sonal meet­ing and at least two phone calls and launched a process aimed at nor­mal­iz­ing ties in fields rang­ing from trade to tourism to telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions.

Stand­ing with Cuba’s pres­i­dent by his side, Fran­cis said the de­vel­op­ments over re­cent months have given him hope.

“I urge po­lit­i­cal lead­ers to per­se­vere on this path and to de­velop all its pos­si­bil­i­ties as a proof of the high ser­vice which they are called to carry out on be­half of the peace and well-be­ing of their peo­ples, of all Amer­ica, and as an ex­am­ple of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion for the en­tire world,” he said.

Cas­tro blasted the U.S. trade em­bargo on Cuba as “cruel, im­moral and illegal” and called for it to end. But he again thanked the Pope for his role in fos­ter­ing “the first step” in a process of nor­mal­iz­ing re­la­tions.

The Vat­i­can has long op­posed the em­bargo on the grounds that it hurts or­di­nary Cubans most. On the eve of the visit, the Vat­i­can No. 2, Car­di­nal Pi­etro Parolin, made clear the Holy See hopes the rap­proche­ment will re­sult in the lift­ing of sanc­tions. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion also called on Congress to lift the em­bargo, and on Fri­day it un­veiled a new round of ex­ec­u­tive ac­tions that carve out ex­cep­tions to the sanc­tions, such as al­low­ing U.S. busi­nesses to open of­fices in Cuba, let­ting U.S. res­i­dents send un­lim­ited cash to Cubans and per­mit­ting vir­tu­ally all U.S. plea­sure boats to travel to the is­land with­out a spe­cial li­cence.

In his re­marks, Fran­cis gave a friendly greet­ing to Fidel Cas­tro, ask­ing his brother Raul to send the 89-year- old rev­o­lu­tion­ary “my sen­ti­ments of par­tic­u­lar re­spect and con­sid­er­a­tion.”

In the same breath, Fran­cis also gave an ap­par­ent nod to Cuban dis­si­dents, who have com­plained he wouldn’t be sit­ting down with them dur­ing his visit. He said he wanted to em­brace “all those who, for var­i­ous rea­sons, I will not be able to meet” — as well as Cubans else­where in the world. The Vat­i­can spokesman said the Pope’s words were cer­tainly meant as an ex­pres­sion of greet­ing to all Cubans, dis­si­dents in­cluded.

“This visit is like a breath of hope blow­ing over Cuba,” be­cause of the role that the Pope played in the re-es­tab­lish­ment of re­la­tions with the U.S., re­tiree Diego Car­rera said.

Fran­cis has been on record crit­i­ciz­ing Cuba’s com­mu­nist — and for decades athe­ist — revo­lu­tion as deny­ing in­di­vid­u­als their “tran­scen­dent dig­nity.” But like the last two popes to visit Cuba, Fran­cis has no meet­ings with dis­si­dents on his of­fi­cial sched­ule. His speeches here are be­ing closely watched for their han­dling of two del­i­cate and re­lated top­ics: hu­man rights in Cuba and the church’s free­dom to op­er­ate in the now of­fi­cially ag­nos­tic state.

The pon­tiff didn’t ex­plic­itly men­tion hu­man rights in his speech but said he would pray to Cuba’s pa­tron saint, the Vir­gin of Char­ity of El Cobre, “for all her Cuban chil­dren and for this beloved na­tion, that it may travel the paths of jus­tice, peace, lib­erty and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.”

While he made no ref­er­ence to the church’s de­sire to be al­lowed to op­er­ate re­li­gious schools and broad­cast on state-run tele­vi­sion and ra­dio, he said his trip was to help the church “sup­port and en­cour­age the Cuban peo­ple in its hopes and con­cerns, with the free­dom, the means and the space needed to bring the procla­ma­tion of the king­dom to the ex­is­ten­tial pe­riph­eries of so­ci­ety.”

The Cuban gov­ern­ment pur­sued an ef­fort to bring crowds into the streets of the cap­i­tal, of­fer­ing a day’s pay, snacks and trans­porta­tion to state work­ers to gather along the Pope’s route from the air­port to the pa­pal am­bas­sador’s home. Univer­sity stu­dents were re­cruited to turn out.

The Vat­i­can es­ti­mated more than 100,000 peo­ple lined the streets on the pon­tiff’s route to the res­i­dence, where he is stay­ing in Ha­vana. He was greeted with shouts of “Fran­cis! Brother! Now you are a Cuban!”

Fran­cis greeted a spe­cially se­lected group of Cubans out­side the res­i­dence Satur­day night be­fore a busy first full day to­day, start­ing with Mass in Revo­lu­tion Plaza fol­lowed by a closed meet­ing with Raul Cas­tro and a pos­si­ble lun­cheon with Fidel Cas­tro. The af­ter­noon brings a ves­pers ser­vice and the Pope’s first en­counter with young Cubans.

Ac­coun­tant Ma­galy Del­gado said she would go to the mass be­cause, “I’m a be­liever and this Pope in­ter­ests me a lot be­cause of all the change that he’s mak­ing.”

On Mon­day, the Pope flies to the eastern city of Hol­guin — part of the pe­riph­ery that is such a con­cern for Fran­cis — to celebrate mass and then on to the far eastern city of San­ti­ago. He spends the night there and cel­e­brates a ma­jor Mass at the sanc­tu­ary of the Vir­gin of Char­ity of Cobre, be­fore fly­ing to Washington Tues­day.

He will be greeted at An­drews Air Force Base by the first fam­ily. He will then, like his pre­de­ces­sors, grab the world stage at the United Na­tions to press his agenda on mi­gra­tion, the en­vi­ron­ment and re­li­gious per­se­cu­tion.

The U.S. visit, planned well be­fore the Cuban stop was added, will be no­table for the cen­tre stage Fran­cis is giv­ing his­pan­ics, who make up about 38 per cent of adult Catholics in the U.S., ac­cord­ing to the CARA re­search cen­tre at Georgetown Univer­sity.

Fran­cis will de­liver most of his speeches in his na­tive Span­ish and is ex­pected to make immigration one of the ma­jor themes of the visit. He has called for coun­tries to be more wel­com­ing of refugees seek­ing a bet­ter life for them­selves and de­cried in par­tic­u­lar the plight of would-be mi­grants cross­ing the U.S.-Mexico bor­der — sig­nalling he has no qualms about wad­ing into a po­lit­i­cally charged is­sue in the U.S. pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

TONY GEN­TILE / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pope Fran­cis waves next to Cuban Pres­i­dent Raul Cas­tro dur­ing a cer­e­mony in Ha­vana Satur­day. The Pope is vis­it­ing the coun­try for 10 days.

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