Pope John Paul
II made an historic visit to Cuba January 21-25. It is the first
time a pope has visited the island nation ever and the first time
he was welcome since Fidel Castro rose to power in the Communist
Revolution of 1959. St. Anthony Messenger senior editor
Jack Wintz, O.F.M., was in Cuba writing a feature on the visit
for St. Anthony Messenger. He filed eyewitness reports
for American Catholic Online.
It is not the first
time Pope John Paul II has visited a Communist nation. His papal
visits to his native Poland in 1979 ignited the Solidarity movement
that ultimately contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union.
During his five
days in Cuba the pope will have a meeting with Castro, visit the
University of Havana, visit a leprosy center and meet with religious
leaders. He will celebrate Mass in Santa Clara (Thursday), Camaguey
(Friday), Santiago de Cuba (Saturday) and finally on Sunday in
Havana, at the Plaza of the Revolution.
The political effect
of the papal visit remains to be seen. The Clinton Administration
welcomes the visit, but says it will not reverse the U.S. economic
embargo against Cuba. That topic is likely to come up in the papal
addresses. Some have speculated that Castro patched relations
with the Vatican in 1996 to try to overcome the isolating effects
of the U.S. embargo.
The religious effect
of the visit will be of particular interest. In the days leading
up to the visit, Fidel Castro announced holidays for government
workers to allow them time to attend the papal events. In recent
years the Church has been growing again. Father Wintz's telephone
calls to Cuba during recent weeks reveal genuine anticipation
of the papal visit on the part of Church members living in Cuba,
including door-to-door envangelizing campaigns.