Colors of Cuba

Reds, yellows, and blues in Havana, Cuba. Photo courtesy Kamira/

I just returned from a weeklong visit to Cuba. A team of seven people from First Baptist Church Greenville went to be with and learn from our partner church in Guanahay, Cuba — La Iglesia Bautista del Camino. After time in such a colorful country, here are some colorful thoughts of my own for three of our Cuban friends.

If Javier were a color, he would be blue. He is kind. "It is important to look each other in the eyes," he said on Easter morning. "So look into each others’ eyes, really, now, look into each others’ eyes, for at the end of the day you will be able to say that you have looked into the eyes of Christ."


After Pope’s Trip, Catholic Bishops Seek End to Cuba Embargo

L'Osservatore Romano Vatican-Pool/Getty Images

Pope Benedict XVI meets with former Cuban President Fidel Castro llast month. L'Osservatore Romano Vatican-Pool/Getty Images

Following Pope Benedict XVI's recent trip to Cuba, U.S. Catholic bishops are pushing the State Department to lift the 50-year Cuban embargo in order to improve religious liberty and human rights for the Cuban people. 

In a Tuesday (April 17) letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, the chairman of the bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace, pressed the Obama administration to pursue “purposeful engagement rather than ineffective isolation” with Havana.

The Cold War is Over

From the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 to the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991, the Cold War ended. But U.S. policymakers apparently still haven’t gotten the news.

This meeting of the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, last weekend ended without  the usual official declaration because U.S. policy refuses to include Cuba, while a broad range of other governments in the Americas supports  an invitation. The final vote was 32-2 for Cuba’s inclusion in future meetings, with only the U.S. and Canada opposed.

Reuters  noted:  “U.S. insistence that Havana undertake democratic reforms before returning to the hemispheric family led to a clash with a united front of leftist and conservative governments that see Washington's policy toward Cuba as a relic of the Cold War.”

It’s long past time for the U.S. to realize that the Cold War is over, that Cuba exists, and that inclusion will foster change faster than exclusion.  Even the Vatican realizes that, as Pope Benedict’s recent trip to Cuba demonstrated.

Pope Meets with Fidel Castro, Urges More Freedom


Pope Benedict XVI waves after celebrating a mass at Revolution Square in Havana on March 28. JUAN BARRETO/AFP/Getty Images

Pope Benedict XVI ended his three-day visit to Cuba on Wednesday (March 28) with an appeal for more religious freedom for the Catholic Church, ahead of a highly anticipated meeting with the island's historic leader, Fidel Castro.

And while he stopped short of openly criticizing the island's communist regime during the trip, Benedict nonetheless said Cuba needed "change" and a "renewed and open society."

The pope celebrated Mass on Wednesday in Havana's Revolution Square for about 300,000 people, according to the Vatican's top spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi.

Cuban President Raul Castro was in attendance and joined in the crowd's applause when the pope entered the stage.

Pope Benedict XVI in Cuba: A Media Round-up


Pope Benedict XVI with Cuban President Raul Castro in Havana on Tuesday. ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images

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. 

Pope Arrives in Cuba, Blasts Economic ‘Selfishness’

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Pope Benedict XVI greets Cuban President Raul Castro in Revolution Square on March 26. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

VATICAN CITY--Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Cuba on Monday (March 26), renewing the Catholic Church's pledge to "work tirelessly to better serve all Cubans" as the island strives to "renew and broaden its horizons."

Benedict landed in Santiago de Cuba, east of Havana, arriving from Mexico for the second leg of his weeklong visit to Latin America. President Raul Castro came to personally greet the German pope before Benedict was scheduled to celebrate Mass in the city's Revolution Square.

In his speech during the airport welcome ceremony, Benedict said he carried with him "the just aspirations and legitimate desires of all Cubans," including those of "prisoners and their families."

Pope to Find Challenges, Opportunities in Cuba

Cathedral of San Cristobal, Pedro Salaverría,

Cathedral of San Cristobal, Pedro Salaverría,

VATICAN CITY--Two weeks before Pope Benedict XVI was scheduled to touch down in Cuba, a small group of protesters occupied a church in central Havana, asking that a message with their requests be delivered directly to the pope.

Their action was swiftly condemned by church authorities as "illegitimate and irresponsible." The group remained in the church for two days, and only left Thursday (March 15) after being assured by a top church leader that they could return home without police interference.

The episode illustrates the challenges that Benedict will find in Cuba during a March 23-29 trip that will also include a stop in Mexico. But it also highlights the good relationship that the Catholic Church has built in recent years with the island's communist regime.

The trip will be the pontiff's second visit to Latin America, which is home to almost half of the world's Catholics. Benedict visited Brazil in 2007.

During his trip, the pope will meet political leaders from both countries and, according to the Vatican's top spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, he might even have a brief encounter with longtime Cuban leader Fidel Castro, though it is not on the official agenda yet.

Jews Ask Pope to Push for Aid Worker’s Release in Cuba

Photo by Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Alan Gross' wife Judy Gross and daughter Nina Gross. Photo by Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post via Getty Images

WASHINGTON--Pope Benedict XVI will use his upcoming trip to Cuba to press for the release of Alan Gross, a Jewish man who has languished in a Cuban jail for more than two years, according to Gross' supporters.

That's the latest Ronald Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, said he has heard through Vatican back channels.

In recent weeks, the council has circulated a petition asking the pope to intercede on Gross' behalf when he visits the island on March 26-28.

"He represents humanitarianism and cherished values, and hopefully his presence could help lead to Alan Gross' release," Halber said.