[…] But the old man with the luminous hands/ will say: love, love, love,/ cheered on by millions of the dying;/ will say: love, love, love,/ in the shimmering tissue of tenderness:/ will say: peace, peace, peace,/ among shivering knives and melons of dynamite;/ will say: love, love, love,/ until his lips turn to silver. […] Federico García Lorca, ‘Cry to Rome (from the Tower of the Chrysler Building)’.
This March, the Pope – like Julius Caesar in a cassock, flanked by nuns, archbishops and altar-boys – crossed an Atlantic Rubicon and a Caribbean Mare Nostrum to Cuba. ‘He came, he saw, he blessed the faithful and then returned.’ But he did not conquer.
He did not conquer, in spite of the fact that, for many, this visit was a decisive moment for the greatest governmental reform that the Antilles’ largest island has seen since the triumph of the revolution.
And there was no need for it. Indeed, whom did Benedict have left to conquer? ‘He is surely another John Paul II,’ the Colombian media verily screamed, shouted – howled, even – from their pulpits and platforms. ‘He’ll finish with communism in the blink of an eye.’
Many claims were made: he would meet with the Ladies in White in La Habana; he would, like a jazz trumpeter for human rights, demand freedom for the ‘thousands of political prisoners languishing in Cuban jails’.
But he paid no attention to that unfortunate mafia business in Miami, nor to the irreverent radio broadcasts that suggested ‘Raúl Castro could smuggle Hugo Chávez in among the papal entourage!’
A great number of things were said, but idle chatter and wishful thinking will never amount to anything else. Indeed, none of these things happened. On a radio programme saturated with Europeans (and among whose guests numbered one ‘Enfermedad Hernández’), a Bogotá-based Uruguyan critic stated that the pope’s visit had ‘come and gone, bringing neither tragedy nor cause for celebration to the island’.
The national media was also revealed as shamefully incompetent in their embarrassing mispronunciation of José Martí’s name (‘MAR-ti’ instead of ‘mar-TI’) and – what’s worse – their complete ignorance with regard to basic cultural and historical facts about Cuba, much like those yank presidents we needn’t name who think that Colombia is the same as Columbia.
How sorely were they all disappointed! They had hoped that Benedict, as Christ’s right-hand man, would end the Cuban regime or replace it with a papal one; but this ‘Vice-God’ was busy celebrating the feast of Our Lady of Charity, because the Virgins deserve a celebration too.
God’s appointed servant on earth did not, as they had believed, ‘let the wolf loose amongst the sheep, the fox amongst the hens and the fly upon the honey’ as Quixote tells us. No, he came only to evangelise, because that is his sole purpose. He acted as any head of state would, and was received as such. The Great Shepherd wasn’t looking for a fight, as the rabble had hoped.
At first I was of a similar opinion, owing to the distrust I have always held for the Holy Office. I refer to an institution that (with very few exceptions) has sided with the powerful since long before Christ – a figure who himself verbally and physically tore into the rich, warning them that they would enter Paradise as readily as a camel would pass through the eye of a needle.
But of course the Church has changed too, and has been doing so since the distant age of liberation theology and the work of Pierre Terhard de Chardin, repressed as his theories may have been by the more conservative branches of the institution. This change can also be seen in the redemptive and humanitarian attitude of Father Camilo Torres Restrepo, whose remains the Colombian militia still refuse to return to the people.
Neither can we forget that the Church has, since the leadership of Pope Leo XIII, been attempting to reconcile itself with secular society, opening the Vatican’s secret archives to public investigation and adapting traditional doctrine to the demands of modern life.
Benedict had never planned to arrive shouting ‘Down with communism!’, as a spectator who managed to sidestep Cuba’s ‘world-class’ security did. At any rate this would have been laughably anachronistic if communism is already believed to be dead.
Conversely, anti-communism is thriving. The infiltrator might more appropriately have shouted ‘Down with anti-communism!’ had he understood that now was not the time for crippling embargos, such as the one that the socialist system has levied against Liberty Island since its inception.
Benedict did not say all this in so many words; but I am sure that, in his divine infallibility, the great shaman of the Church thought it – just as Leo XIII responded to 19th-century pressures with a revised, socially-conscious doctrine.
Let us pray that the Pope can deliver a version of socialism fit for the 21st century, because in these trying times there can be no other option for humanity.
It is either this, or we let ourselves decry the economic, political and social chaos that is the result of failed neoliberalism in Europe… and we celebrate the unhindered triumph of Bolivarianism in South America.
(Translated by Elspeth Nina Gillespie – email@example.com)