Front Door to Cuba

Castro Welcomes Pope John Paul II to Cuba

January 21, 1998

Holy Father,

The Pope in Cuba

The land you have just kissed is honored by your presence. You will not find here the peaceful and generous native people who inhabited this island when the first Europeans arrived. Most of the men were annihilated by the exploitation and the enslaved work they could not resist and the women turned into pleasure objects or domestic slaves. ...

There were also those who died by the homicidal swords or victims of unknown diseases brought by the conquerors. Some priests have left tearing testimonies of their protests against such crimes.

In the course of centuries, over a million Africans ruthlessly uprooted from their distant lands took the place of the enslaved natives already exterminated. They made a remarkable contribution to the ethnic composition and the origins of our country's present population where the cultures, the beliefs and the blood of all participants in the dramatic history have been mixed.

It has been estimated that the conquest and colonization of this hemisphere resulted in the death of 70 million natives and the enslavement of 12 million Africans. Much blood was shed and many injustices perpetrated, a large part of which still remain after centuries of struggle and sacrifices under new forms of domination and exploitation.

Under extremely difficult conditions, Cuba was able to constitute a nation. It had to fight alone for its independence with unsurmountable heroism and, exactly 100 years ago, it suffered a real holocaust in the concentration camps where a large part of its population perished, mostly old men, women and children; a crime whose monstrosity is not diminished by the fact that it has been forgotten by humanity's conscience. As a son of Poland and a witness of Oswiecim, you can understand this better than anyone.

Today, Holy Father, genocide is attempted again when by hunger, illness and total economic suffocation some try to subdue this people that refuses to accept the dictates and the rule of the mightiest economic, political and military power in history; much more powerful than the old Rome that for centuries had the beasts devour those who refused to abdicate their faith. Like those Christians horribly slandered to justify the crimes, we who are as slandered as they were, we choose a thousand times death rather than abdicate our convictions. The revolution, like the Church, also has many martyrs.

Holy Father, we feel the same way you do about many important issues of today's world and we are pleased it is so; in other matters our views are different but we are most respectful of your strong convictions about the ideas you defend.

In your long pilgrimage around the world, you have been able to see with your own eyes many injustices, inequalities and poverty; uncultivated lands and landless hungry farmers; unemployment, hunger, illness; lives that could be saved with little money being lost for lack of it; illiteracy, child prostitution, 6-year old children working or begging for alms to survive; shanty towns where hundreds of millions live in unworthy conditions; race and sex discrimination; complete ethnic groups evicted from their lands and abandoned to their fate; xenophobia, contempt for other peoples; cultures which have been, or are currently being, destroyed; underdevelopment and usurious loans, unpayable and uncollectable debts, unfair exchange, outrageous and unproductive financial speculations; an environment being ruthlessly and perhaps helplessly destroyed; an unscrupulous weapons trade with disgusting lucrative intents; wars, violence, massacres; generalized corruption, narcotics, vices and an alienating consumerism imposed on peoples as an ideal model.

Mankind has seen its population increase almost fourfold just in this century. There are billions of people suffering hunger and thirst for justice; the list of man's economic and social calamities is endless. I am aware that many of them are cause of permanent and growing concern to the Holy Father.

I have been through personal experiences which allow me to appreciate other features of his thinking. I was a student in Catholic schools until I obtained my bachelor's degree. There, I was taught that to be a Jew, a Muslim, a Hinduist, a Buddhist, an animist or a participant of any other religious belief was a terrible evil deserving severe and unmitigated punishment. More than once, even in some of those schools for the wealthy and privileged -- where I was one of them -- I came up with the question of why there were no black children there; until this day, I have not forgotten the unconvincing answers I was given.

In later years, the Second Vatican Council convened by Pope John XXIII undertook the analysis of some of these sensitive issues. We are aware of efforts by the Holy Father to preach and practice sentiments of respect for the faithful of other important and influential religions which have expanded through the world. Respect for believers and non-believers alike is a basic principle revolutionary Cubans try to impress upon their fellow citizens. Such principles have been defined and consecrated by our Constitution and our laws. If there have ever been difficulties, the Revolution is not to blame.

We entertain the hope that never again, in no school of whatever religion nowhere in the world, an adolescent need ask why there are no black, native, yellow or white children there.

Holy Father, I sincerely admire your courageous statements on the events concerning Galileo and the Inquisition's known errors; on the Crusades' bloody episodes and the crimes committed during the conquest of the Americas; also on certain scientific discoveries that today are not contested by anybody but which, in their times, were the target of so many prejudices and anathemas. That certainly required the immense authority you have come to attain within your church.

What can we offer you in Cuba? People exposed to less inequalities and a lower number of helpless citizens; less children without schools, less patients without hospitals, and more teachers and physicians per capita than any other country in the world visited by the Holy Father; educated people you can talk to in perfect freedom with the certainty of their talent and their high political culture, their strong convictions and absolute confidence in their ideas; people that will show all due respect and consciousness in listening to you. Another country will not be found better disposed to understand your felicitous idea -- as we understand it and so similar to what we preach -- that the equitable distribution of wealth and solidarity among men and peoples should be globalized.

Welcome to Cuba!

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