Pope Benedict XVI’s 3-day visit to Cuba began Monday, when President Raul Castro greeted the pontiff at the airport of Santiago de Cuba. The arrival was fairly quiet, but the evening Mass in Santiago’s plaza was attended by an estimated 200,000 Cubans. The pope's long-awaited visit attracted news coverage from around the world, mostly focusing in the pope’s message.
One of the best was the Associated Press in a comprehensive piece:
Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Cuba on Monday in the footsteps of his more famous predecessor, gently pressing the island’s longtime communist leaders to push through “legitimate” reforms their people desire, while also criticizing the excesses of capitalism.
It goes on to note the pope’s message to the “just aspirations and legitimate desires of all Cubans, wherever they may be. Those of the young and the elderly, of adolescents and children, of the sick and workers, of prisoners and their families, and of the poor and those in need."
But the report notes that Benedict XVI also spoke strongly against the abuses of capitalism, which has produced a “profound spiritual and moral crisis which has left humanity devoid of values and defenseless before the ambition and selfishness of certain powers which take little account of the true good of individuals and families.”
Al Jazeera and BBC noted the changing relationship between the Catholic Church and the Cuban government in a situation where each has something to gain from each other. The Church has become the most influential organization in the country other than the government, including an ability to negotiate with the government on political prisoners and other issues. The government is gaining an increased role of the church in providing social services, and a chance to prove its claim to religious freedom.
McClatchy News, with reporting from the Miami Herald, noted the presence of several hundred Cuban Catholics who had flown in from Miami. Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski, who led them, said of the expected papal message, "It won't be a political message, but Cubans are tired of politics. It will transcend politics, but in this transcending of politics, it may be a transforming experience.''
A different approach – the challenge of evangelicalism – appeared in the UK's Guardian. The report there noted that Catholics are only the third largest faith in Cuba, behind Afro-Cuban religions such as Santería, and evangelical Protestants. As in most of Latin America,
The real challenge facing the Roman Catholic church, both in Cuba and in the rest of Latin America, is the tremendous growth in recent decades of evangelical Protestantism. In Cuba, the various denominations popular in the United States in the 19th century arrived with the US invasion of 1898, and spread rapidly all over in the country, bringing their unique blend of education and self-help.
Finally, The New York Times chose to print a largely anti-Cuban government piece. The headline referred to the “closely watched visit,” and the report featured quotes from several critics. It claimed that the large crowd who greeted the pope “had been pressured to attend by their employer or a local chapter of the Communist Party, and dissidents had been pressured not to attend.” The only quotes given from the pope were those which could be taken as anti-government.
Duane Shank is Senior Policy Advisor for Sojourners.