Saturday, March 31, 2012


When company is expected, most people tidy up around the house—they vacuum, straighten the books on the shelf, replace burned out lights, maybe even clean the bathroom. God forbid someone should come and actually see how we live every day. After they arrive, we throw a steak on the barbeque, lock the dog in the backyard so he doesn’t jump on the guest, and take out our best china and stemware. Hopefully, the guest enjoys himself, and if there are any imperfections in our hospitality and not everything is as perfect as June Cleaver might like in the faultless world of TV sitcoms, the guest is nice enough not to say anything. If the guest is really special, he might climb the stairs and visit with grandpa, who is too infirm to come to the living room.

What does a country do when a visitor is expected and that visitor is the Pope? This past week we got to see how it works in Cuba. The dissidents and the followers of Santería, all of whom were anxious to spend some time with the Pope, were, like the dog, kept out of sight and in the backyard. The large Havana public square, La Plaza de la Revolución was draped with bunting, blocking out the large sign that reads “motherland or death.” Papal flags were everywhere, together with Papal drinking water bottles. Although only ten percent of the population regards itself as Catholic after more than thirty years as an officially atheistic state that ended in the 90s, hundreds of thousand came to the square to watch the Pope celebrate mass. Afterwards, instead of going upstairs to visit grandpa, he drove over to Miramar to chat with Fidel. Oh to be a fly on that wall!

The papal visit has confused many Cubans. Although some have been enjoying the freedom to go to church that was granted in the aftermath of the first papal visit of Pope John Paul II, and others were forced to attend for fear of being docked a day’s work, the vast majority of the population does not attend church services. Due to the poor state of the economy, the national leadership has been encouraging the workers to work harder and sacrifice for the national good. Now, not only were they given a day off from work with full pay to go hear the Pope speak, but they also have to understand how it is that the government leadership has now made Good Friday a paid national holiday, in response to the Pope’s request to Raul Castro.

None of the dissidents spoke to the Pope, and aside from an admonishment he made before he arrived in Cuba that Marxism is a failed policy, the Pope refrained from criticizing anyone in the Cleaver household. He did mention the next door neighbor disapprovingly, however, when he asked the U.S. to end the Cuban embargo. The pope behaved himself, and he’ll probably be welcomed back some day. I wonder what holy day will become a holiday at that time.

Cuban twitter messages are invading the Internet with the identity of the Cuban who dared to yell “down with Communism,” before the Pope’s mass in Plaza Antonio Maceo in Santiago de Cuba. His name is Andrés Carrión Álvarez, and his whereabouts are unknown. A petition for his release is being sent around the world. This is this man’s story of bravery:

On March 26, 2012 a Cuban man was violently beaten and arrested during the mass held by Pope Benedict the XVI during his visit to CUBA. Cuban government thugs dressed in RED CROSS logo uniforms beat him with a stretcher over the head. He was dragged away for shouting "down with communism" and "Cubans are not FREE!"

As of today his physical address is totally unknown. We ask the help of all international and human rights organizations in protecting this protestor. He is at risk of losing his life in a Cuban prison. Furthermore, his disappearance will be used by the Cuban government as an example to demonstrate what happens if one violates the government control of speech. A fearful and silent population allows the government to sustain itself.

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