He is Argentine and she Cuban. Separating them are the thousands of miles between the Vatican and the Sanctuary of Cobre. This coming September they will be very close, when Pope Francis I visits this island where the Virgin of Charity is adored as the patron saint of all Cubans. Cachita – as we call our Virgin – has spent decades listening to the prayers springing up on all sides; some pleas that will soon be known, first hand, are those of the one we already affectionately call Paquito.
The visit to Cuba of the head of the Vatican City State, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, could usher in a new era for the country. If last December’s announcement about the restoration of relations between Cuba and the United States opened the door to hopes of substantial change, perhaps the arrival of the Pope will grant to the current negotiations a character that transcends the agreement between the two governments.
As a mediator of the secret talks held between the White House and the Plaza of the Revolution, Francis knows that the process will be plagued with obstacles. Perhaps he believes that the greatest danger lies in one of the parties deciding to abandon the negotiations, but the risk is elsewhere. The most alarming would be that this spirit of understanding will not be completed with the dialog, so needed, between the Island’s authorities and its civil society.
The little David of this story is personified by the Cuban people, while the great Goliath is represented by an authoritarian government that controls and silences
Like a biblical scene, the Pope will find that the little David of this story is personified by the Cuban people, while the great Goliath is represented by an authoritarian government that controls and silences. The urgent medicine is directed to making the intolerant and aggressive giant see that it should not continue to censor its own population, but usher in a new time of freedom and respectful coexistence. Is there a possibility that Paquito can help us elevate these desires?
We also hope that during his stay among us Francis will go beyond asking for the release of activists, as happened with previous papal visits. These quotas of prisoners handed over to the “shepherd,” and in many cases forced to leave the country, would not provide sufficient relief right now. We Cubans need to put an end to political imprisonment. Hasten to close a stage of our national history during which so many people have been behind bars from thinking differently from the ruling party.
Francis can help us to close the chapter of the criminalization of dissent and suggest to the authorities of the Island that they make a public commitment to accepting “the other,” regardless of their political orientation. Returning to our compatriots in the diaspora their right to enter, reside in, and freely leave the country, would be another historic act of justice that would eliminate the painful and artificial separation between “Cubans inside” and “Cubans outside.”
Cachita’s nation needs a new project for the future that includes economic relief and returns to citizens the rights of free association and free expression
Simply by setting foot on Cuban soil, the pope will perceive that Cachita’s nation needs a new project for the future that includes economic relief and returns to citizens the rights of free association and free expression. In the circumstances facing Cuba, also urgent is a process of understanding that lets Cubans know that there is life after authoritarianism. That it is possible to have a prosperous country without faking a political affiliation, bowing to one party, or offering up one’s own children to the altar of ideological indoctrination. It is time to end this absurdity and fully enter into the 21 stCentury, with all the advantages and risks that this signifies.
Nor should they wait any longer to end the shameful acts of repudiation where Cubans confront Cubans. These picketers who use screams, insults and hatred to intimidate defenseless people should be condemned to the past in our lives. May the crozier and miter contribute to promoting a national healing process, where the victims and the victimizers recognize their roles as simple pieces on a board of polarization that has ensured fear doesn’t give way to a civic conscience.
It will be difficult for Francis to exceed that January 1998 when John Paul II breathed faith into the Catholics of this Island and hopes for those who do not embrace any religious creed. Now, the current pope comes when it seems that Karol Wojtyla’s prediction will come true: that Cuba will open itself to the world, and the world will open itself to Cuba. Paquito, for his part, could pass into our national history by encouraging a new goal: “Let Cuba open itself to Cuba.” Only then will Cachita stop hearing to so many stories of separation and pain, to be the patron saint of a country that looks to the future.