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Cuba: What Did Pope Benedict XVI Leave Behind?

Two weeks after Pope Benedict XVI left the island, Cuba has returned to normalcy.  The blogosphere has gone back to its usual topics and just a few blogs mention Joseph Ratzinger in their stories.

At the Pope’s request, the Cuban government declared last Good Friday a national holiday; however, it was made clear that this was “an exceptional case.” Fourteen years ago, Pope John Paul II requested the first religious holiday in the island: December 25.

However, not all netizens in the island agree with this decision. Rogelio Díaz, in his post Holidays: Jesus Christ 2 – Orishas 0 [es] recalls the religious syncretism characteristic of Cuban society, which is mostly non-catholic:

Si al final ponen más días feriados en este país, pues los disfrutamos todos. Lo que no me acaba de gustar es el favoritismo por una divinidad particular, de parte de un gobierno que se considera a sí mismo laico, y que rige sobre un pueblo que mayoritariamente tiene una religiosidad mucho más compleja. Por muchos Papas que vengan, no van a cambiar el hecho de que el sincretismo religioso campea en Cuba y que los Orishas, esos sí, son más populares que Cristo.

If, at the end, there are more religious holidays in this country, we are all going to enjoy them, but what I am not totally happy about is the government’s favoritism for a particular deity.  This is a government that is supposed to be secular and is supposed to govern a people with a much more complex religiosity.  No matter how many popes visit the island, they are not going to change the fact that religious syncretism is very much present among Cubans and that Orishas are indeed more popular than Christ.

On the other hand, Carlos Manuel Alvarez, a student of journalism in the University of Havana and author of the blog Obscene Chronicles [es], one of the newest blogs in the national blogosphere, compares [es] the mass celebrated at the Plaza de la Revolución with the “Peace without Frontiers” concert that took place in 2009:

Si prestamos atención, la Plaza de la Revolución del 2009 es distinta a la del 2012, dos lugares diametralmente opuestos, porque un lugar, cuando se adentra en el tiempo (…), se va pareciendo más a una cuestión litúrgica que a otra cosa, es decir, va tomando las características y el carácter que hayamos decidido darle (…).

En menos de quince años dos Sumos Pontífices han visitado La Habana. Es probable también que en menos de quince años, perdonen que insista sobre ello, se repita otro concierto como Paz sin Fronteras (nombre bíblico donde los haya). Quizás para el 2022 ó 2023. Quizás, si lo medimos en proporción, en solo par de años acontezca, pues el tiempo de los músicos es un tiempo mucho más corto que el tiempo de la Iglesia Católica, el cual, contrario al de los artistas, no es un tiempo ligero, sino pesado, un tiempo que se mide en siglos, no en décadas.

De modo que para lo lento que evoluciona el catolicismo, dos Sumos Pontífices en quince años vienen a ser como uno solo y una canción de los Van Van, si tenemos en cuenta el poder perverso y conciliador de la música, significa al unísono el Apocalipsis y la Primera Comunión.

Cuba is mostly non-catholic and religious syncretism predominates.  Photo courtesy of Jorge Luis Bolaños.

Cuba is mostly non-catholic and religious syncretism predominates. Photo courtesy of Jorge Luis Bolaños.

If we look closely, the Plaza de la Revolucionin 2009 is different from the one in 2012; they are two completely opposite places because when a place goes deep into time (…), it becomes a liturgical matter more than anything else, I mean, it takes on the characteristics and nature we decide to give it (…).

In less than fifteen years, two Popes have visited Havana.  It is also possible that in less than fifteen years, sorry to insist on this, we will have another “Peace without Frontiers” concert (biblical name wherever they appear), maybe in 2022 or 2023. Or maybe it will happen in just a couple of years since a musician’s lifetime is shorter than that of the Catholic Church.  Unlike an artist’s, the Church’s existence is not light, but heavy; it is measured in centuries, not in decades.

So, considering how slowly Catholicism evolves, two Popes in fifteen years come to be only one and a popular song. If we think about the perverse and conciliatory power of music , it means the Apocalypse and the First Communion at the same time.

Nyliam Vazquez, author of Eyes to the N, in one of her most recent entries [es – both links] remembers her grandmother’s teachings about the Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1998:

Todo debió conspirar para avanzar de un modo distinto, cuando los ojos se elevaron y la patrona de Cuba me sorprendió con su presencia infinita en Plaza de la Revolución. Entonces no hubo más camino que aquel de regreso a la infancia, a la terraza, al taburete… Y ese instante esencial, como siempre, la oración salvadora. Después, como me enseñó mi abuela, y en su abrazo, elevé mis ruegos más urgentes en pleno estremecimiento. Seguí el trayecto de siempre. Dios te salve María, llena eres de gracia…

Everything must have been a plot to move in a different direction when I looked up and the patroness of Cuba surprised me with her infinite presence in the Plaza de la Revolución.  Then there was nothing else to do but go back to my childhood, to the terrace, to the stool…And that essential moment, as always, the savior prayer.  Then, as my grandmother taught me, and in her embrace, I offered my most urgent prayers, trembling all over.  I followed the usual path: Hail Mary, full of grace…

However, Benedict XVI’s visit was also marked by moments of political tension, for example, the trespassing of the security fence by a man in Santiago de Cuba to shout anti-communist slogans, the brief detentions of Havana’s opponents and bloggers [es – both links], and the interruption of the reception of cell phone messages from abroad.

Also present was the ideological confrontation in social networks, where, as never before, each party chose a tag on Twitter to report on the visit: #BenedictoCuba, from a pro Cuban government standpoint, and #PapaCuba, used mainly by the opposition.

Also, after Benedict XVI’s visit, two young Chilean communists arrived in Cuba [es]: Karol Cariola and Camila Vallejo, secretary of the Communist Youth of Chile and vice-president of the Student Federation of Chile, respectively.

Another reason of celebration for the Caribbean island was the declaration as venerable of the independent priest Felix Varela [es], well known in Cuba for being “the first one to teach us how to think.”  Varela could be beatified after a granted miracle is proven.

Author Rafael Gonzalez [es] also collaborated in this article.

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