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Pope in Cuba: Trip shows how church playing balancing act (+video)

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Whereas Pope John Paul II’s visit to Cuba nearly 15 years ago was in itself a historic moment – coming as it did at the end of a dark period for church-state relations in Cuba – Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the island this week was more about consolidating spaces the Cuban Catholic Church has won in society, and about gaining more such space.  Those who hoped this pope’s trip would have profound impact on the broader political and human rights context on the island were surely disappointed by the pope’s decision not to meet with Cuban dissidents who asked to see him. 

To some extent, it’s hard to imagine what prominent figure really could sway Cuba’s leaders off of their course to rebuild the economy and leave the one-party political system in place. Perhaps I’m being naive, but I tend to think the Cuban people themselves will be the protagonists of that evolution, even if it takes much longer than some, or many, wish.

But given the ground the Cuban Catholic Church lost decades ago, the ground it has recovered in the past decade, and its priorities for the future near and far, creating more space for those goals must have been the driving factors in the pope’s trip. And perhaps that increased space in society – whether it is the Cuba Catholic Church’s publication of unvarnished criticisms of Raul Castro’s halting economic reforms, or the hoped-for reopening of private Catholic schools in Cuba one day, or Pope Benedict’s request to add Good Friday to the Cuban State’s official calendar – perhaps these advances, and reaches, by the Catholic Church and its offices and members in Cuban society at a crucial time of generational change may help usher in other social and political openings.

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