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Viewpoint: ‘The cry of humanity: peace, peace’

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That Halloween season Strategic Air Command bombers with bright orange markings started flying low over our schoolyard to land about four miles away at Philadelphia’s airport. It’s a memory confirmed by histories that report it was Oct. 26, 1962, when B-47s were deployed to civilian airports in a DEFCON 2 alert during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

As an 11-year-old following the news, I assumed the problem of Communist Russia’s missiles in Cuba would be resolved by the United States invoking the Monroe Doctrine to keep the Soviet Union’s weapons both out of Cuba and the entire Western Hemisphere. Read more »

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Catholic church leaders call for dialogue between the U.S. and Cuba

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Catholic News Service

 

WASHINGTON (CNS) — The retired Catholic archbishop of Havana called for dialogue between the United States and Cuba, and said it’s the only way in which past and present problems can be solved.

In a June 19 letter published in Palabra Nueva, the magazine for the Archdiocese of Havana, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, who played a major role in the rapprochement between Cuba and the U.S., said “resorting to old models” and applying them presently to Cuba can “overshadow or delay” the resolution of conflicts between the two countries. Read more »

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Miami archdiocese prepares to help hurricane Matthew victims

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Catholic News Service

MIAMI — Like the rest of South Florida, the Archdiocese of Miami was carefully watching the path of Hurricane Matthew, a Category 4 storm that began pounding Haiti and Cuba Oct. 4 and was expected to hit Florida’s Atlantic coastal area late Oct. 6.

Residents stand outside their homes Oct. 5 in Cite Soleil, a slum in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, after Hurricane Matthew swept through the island nation. Rescue workers in Haiti are struggling to reach parts of the country cut off by Hurricane Matthew, the most powerful Caribbean storm in nearly a decade. (CNS photo/courtesy Malteser International)

Residents stand outside their homes Oct. 5 in Cite Soleil, a slum in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, after Hurricane Matthew swept through the island nation. Rescue workers in Haiti are struggling to reach parts of the country cut off by Hurricane Matthew, the most powerful Caribbean storm in nearly a decade. (CNS photo/courtesy Malteser International)

Chief among the preparations was prayer. Miami Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski asked all South Florida parishes to include prayers for those affected in their daily Masses in the days ahead.

About 1.5 million Floridians were already fleeing the coast to take shelter elsewhere.

The archdiocese also was preparing to provide aid to the Caribbean nations hardest hit by Matthew, especially Haiti, Cuba, Jamaica and the Bahamas.

According to Deacon Richard Turcotte, chief executive officer of Catholic Charities, the archdiocese established contact with Catholic Relief Services’ Caribbean representative, who is stationed in Honduras and has responsibility for Cuba, Jamaica and Haiti.

“CRS has prepositioned supplies in the Dominican Republic (tarps, hygiene and cooking kits) that can be moved to Cuba or Jamaica if needed,” Deacon Turcotte told the Florida Catholic, newspaper of the Miami archdiocese.

Although the island avoided a direct hit, Jamaica experienced serious flooding caused by Matthew’s outer bands. Haiti, meanwhile, felt the full impact of the storm.

It left southwestern Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, in shambles after slamming into the country’s Caribbean coast Oct. 4. The cities of Les Cayes, on the southwest coast, and Jeremie, in the northwest, were said to be particularly hit hard by the strongest storm to strike the Caribbean region in a decade.

Haitian officials said at midday Oct. 6 that at least 108 people had been killed, and more casualties were expected.

In Miami, Father Reginald Jean-Mary, pastor of Notre Dame d’Haiti Mission in Little Haiti, has been in touch with Haiti’s Cardinal Chibly Langlois, who heads the Diocese of Les Cayes.

After striking Haiti and Cuba, the slow-moving storm continued on a northward path to batter the Bahamas. From there it was headed to the Florida coast.

“We have spoken with Archbishop (Patrick) Pinder of Nassau and representatives from the Archdiocese of Kingston, indicating to each that we are on standby to assist with post-storm recovery,” Deacon Turcotte added.

He said Catholic Charities also had communicated with a food supply wholesaler who could have rice, beans and cooking oils put on pallets and be ready to deliver to a freight forwarder by Oct. 7 or 8 to go to the islands.

Regarding Haiti, the immediate need is for cash donations to purchase water and nonperishable food items, as well as to aid in the cleanup.

All Miami archdiocesan aid would be funneled through church organizations such as Caritas Cuba; CRS, the U.S. bishops’ overseas relief and development agency; and Amor en Accion, a lay missionary group that works with Miami’s sister Diocese of Port-de-Paix in Haiti’s northwest region — the poorest in that nation.

Teresita Gonzalez, executive director of Amor en Accion, noted that because the Catholic Church is already present in every one of the affected nations, its agencies offer the best and most effective way of providing relief.

That is especially true in northwestern Haiti, where “there are no NGOs (nongovernmental organizations), only the church,” Gonzalez said.

As Matthew moved closer to South Florida, the archdiocesan Office of Building and Property also reminded pastors and those in charge of parish plants to review their hurricane preparedness plans.

Archdiocesan schools planned to follow the lead of public schools in Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe counties on school closures.

The archdiocese also will notify local radio and television stations regarding school closings or relief efforts.

Rodriguez-Soto is editor of the Florida Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Miami.

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‘I strive to continue’ — Retired Pope Benedict says he felt a ‘duty’ to resign

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Retired Pope Benedict XVI said in an interview that he felt a “duty” to resign from the papacy because of his declining health and the rigorous demands of papal travel. Read more »

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Historic first: Pope Francis to meet with Russian Orthodox patriarch

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — After almost three decades of tense Catholic-Russian Orthodox relations, Pope Francis will meet Patriarch Kirill of Moscow Feb. 12 in Cuba on the pope’s way to Mexico.

It will be the first-ever meeting of a pope and Moscow patriarch, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, told reporters Feb. 5. Read more »

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Holguin Catholics experience the unimaginable: papal Mass in public

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Catholic News Service

HOLGUIN, Cuba — The scene would have been unimaginable a few years ago: A Catholic Mass in Holguin’s Revolution Plaza, where May Day parades and other patriotic events exalting the Cuban Revolution take place.

But on Monday, thousands flocked to the public space, also known as the Plaza Calixto Garcia Iniguez, and exalted Christ and the Virgin of Charity, as the city hosted its first religious event in that plaza: a Mass celebrated by the head of the Catholic Church.

Pope Francis looks out from the Hill of the Cross in Holguin, Cuba, Sept. 21. (CNS photo/Alessandra Tarantino, Pool via Reuters)

Pope Francis looks out from the Hill of the Cross in Holguin, Cuba, Sept. 21. (CNS photo/Alessandra Tarantino, Pool via Reuters)

A giant poster of the Virgin of Charity, Cuba’s patron saint, faced the plaza in the distance, as well as the red star signaling the headquarters of the Cuban Communist Party. Workers and schoolchildren were given the day off to attend the event, though it was clear that some in the crowd, unsure of how to pray, arrived just to get a glimpse of Pope Francis.

It has not been easy to get to this point, said Maria del Carmen Zellek Camayd, a local Catholic doctor who attended the Sept. 21 Mass.

“We were terribly discriminated,” she said.

Up until a few years ago, Christians, but particularly Catholics, could not be members of the Communist Party in Cuba and were banned from holding certain jobs or coveted spots at universities following the 1959 Cuban Revolution. Many practiced the faith in secret, and those who did not hide it suffered.

But some like Zellek say the hardships that she and other Cuban Catholics have faced have served as “purification” for the people and the church they love. But after that purification, Catholics in Cuba are undergoing a period of fence-mending with Cuban authorities, who have worked with church officials to prepare events before the pope’s arrival.

Father Angel Andres Gonzalez of the Diocese of Holguin said there is still a long way to go until Christians can fully participate in Cuban society, but papal visits certainly help. When St. John Paul II visited Cuba, it helped the government open itself up to the Catholic Church, he said. Pope Francis’ visit, as his predecessors’ visits also have done, forced collaboration between the government and the church. They learned to work together and have established some level of trust, as well as new paths of communication, he said. It also strengthened the church because its members worked more in communion with one another, he said.

Pope Francis’ visit also has brought about renewed hope by many Catholics on the island who are calling for more spaces and more collaboration with the state so that Catholics can help the country in areas where help is needed, such as education and societal values.

Juana Dania Vaillnit and Francisco Reyes Mora, have been married for 50 years, a feat in a country where Catholic marriage, and even civil marriage, has become rare. They said the church can help young people prepare for marriage and a family, institutions that can strengthen Cuba.

“We have to recognize that we learned love through our ancestors, who learned it through religion, through the church. It’s a place that helps form values,” Reyes said.

Getting help and freedoms from the government is a first step, but having Pope Francis, the spiritual leader of the church, talk to young people about the future addresses the spiritual side, which a lot of young people struggle with, Vaillnit said.

But this pope, with his humility and simplicity, is able to walk the tightrope that might be required to help the church make even more progress, not just with the government but also with people who have grown up without faith, Zellek said.

On Monday, Pope Francis went to bless the city of Holguin from the top of a hill that has a cross. In a simple place, he offered a simple prayer, asking that God bless and light the lives of the families, children, young people, the sick, and all who suffer. It’s a place that, though humble, is of great importance to “Holguineros,” as the people of Holguin are called, said Oscar Ramirez, 69.

The cross is a symbol of the town but also of Cuba and its outlook on life. There are a lot of lessons to learn up there, lessons that the world can learn from Cuba, Ramirez said.

“We know how to carry the cross with dignity,” Ramirez said.

Like a lot of Latin American nations, Cuba is a place that values humility, values a person who works hard, is not ostentatious, knows how to deal with hardships and grows closer to God through them, he said.

In visiting a poor and complicated country that has deep wounds, Pope Francis was deliberate in the lesson he wants to teach others, Zellek said. Life in post-revolution Cuba was difficult for Catholics, but would have been even more difficult without the church, its priests and religious, its values, Zellek said.

“They taught us to adapt,” to remain charitable when others closed the doors to places of worship, and to find creative ways to remain faithful.

What she has learned from the journey, she said, is that by embracing all those hardships, she embraced the Gospel and learned the lesson the pope has come to Cuba to teach.

“I believe in forgiveness and reconciliation,” she said.

 

A video to accompany this story can be found at https://youtu.be/pzsFbcq3yr4

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Jesus’ love changes people, enables them to love others, pope says in Holguin, Cuba

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Catholic News Service

HOLGUIN, Cuba — Celebrating the feast of St. Matthew, a day he considers a turning point in his own journey of faith, Pope Francis told thousands of Cubans that Jesus knows who they really are and calls them to walk with him.

Pope Francis kisses a child as he arrives to celebrate Mass in Revolution Square in Holguin, Cuba, Sept. 21. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis kisses a child as he arrives to celebrate Mass in Revolution Square in Holguin, Cuba, Sept. 21. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Arriving in the eastern city of Holguin from Havana Sept. 21, the pope went directly to the city’s Revolution Square for the feast day Mass. People had the day off work and off school so they could attend.

The pope explained to the people in the square that Matthew was a tax collector for the Roman occupiers, which meant that he was seen as a traitor to be shunned. But Jesus “looked at him with the eyes of mercy; he looked at him as no one had ever looked at him before.”

“And this look unlocked Matthew’s heart,” the pope said. “It set him free, it healed him, it gave him hope, a new life,” just as Jesus’ merciful gaze gives new life to men and women today.

The story of St. Matthew’s call and conversion is one the pope talks about often. The feast day is the first day of spring in Argentina, a day students have free from school. It was the day in 1953 that a 17-year-old Jorge Mario Bergoglio felt a strange urge to enter a church and go to confession. He often recounts the story and his feeling that the priest in the confessional was waiting just for him; it was the beginning of his vocation to be a Jesuit and a priest.

When Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, editor of La Civilta Cattolica, conducted the first long interview with Pope Francis in 2013, the pope told him Caravaggio’s painting of “The Calling of St. Matthew” reminds him of himself.

“That finger of Jesus, pointing at Matthew. That’s me. I feel like him. Like Matthew,” he told Father Spadaro. “It is the gesture of Matthew that strikes me: he holds on to his money as if to say, ‘No, not me! No, this money is mine.’ Here, this is me, a sinner on whom the Lord has turned his gaze. And this is what I said when they asked me if I would accept my election as pontiff.”

Father Spadaro wrote that the pope then whispered in Latin the words he said to the cardinals: “I am a sinner, but I trust in the infinite mercy and patience of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I accept in a spirit of penance.”

Preaching under bright, sunny skies in Holguin, Pope Francis told the people, “Jesus’ love goes before us, his look anticipates our needs. He can see beyond appearances, beyond sin, beyond failures and unworthiness.”

Jesus, he said, sees “our dignity as sons and daughters, a dignity all of us have, a dignity sometimes sullied by sin, but one which endures in the depth of our soul.”

Pope Francis asked people in the crowd to find a quiet time at home or in a church to remember in silence and with gratitude an occasion when they felt that merciful gaze of Christ.

Jesus’ love, his mercy and his call to follow are also calls to love others, respect their dignity and show them mercy, the pope said. “Jesus’ love heals our short-sightedness and pushes us to look beyond, not to be satisfied with appearances or with what is politically correct.”

Pope Francis asked the crowd to practice gazing upon Jesus in the Eucharist, in confession and “in our brothers and sisters, especially those who feel excluded or abandoned. May we learn to see them as Jesus sees us.”

 

Contributing to this story was Rhina Guidos in Holguin.

 

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Serve people, not ideology, pope tells Cubans at Havana Mass

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Catholic News Service

HAVANA — As Cubans finally face the prospects of calmer relationships and greater ease of communication and commerce with the United States, Pope Francis told the Cuban people that love and service, not anyone’s ideology, are the keys to their happiness.

“We do not serve ideas, we serve people,” the pope told hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Havana’s Revolution Square for Mass Sept. 20.

Choir members cheer as Pope Francis arrives to celebrate Mass in Revolution Square in Havana Sept. 20. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Choir members cheer as Pope Francis arrives to celebrate Mass in Revolution Square in Havana Sept. 20. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

For decades the square has been the site of major communist government rallies and is dominated by a huge image of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, an Argentine Marxist who became a leader in the Cuban Revolution of the 1950s.

The image of Che was prominent at the pope’s Mass, but so was a banner proclaiming Pope Francis a “missionary of mercy” and an even bigger image of the merciful Jesus.

After decades of communism, Mass attendance in Cuba is low; even the Vatican reports that only 60 percent of the population is baptized Catholic. But as a sign of the pope’s hopes for the growth of the church in Cuba, he granted an exception to his normal practice of personally giving Communion only to the altar servers and other ministers at his public Masses. Five Cuban children received their first Communion from the pope at the Mass.

In his homily, Pope Francis focused on an aspect of Jesus’ ministry that he tries to imitate: First of all, identify the good in a person, then help or challenge him or her to build on that good instinct or behavior.

Using the normal Sunday Mass readings, the pope’s homily was a reflection on the Gospel passage from St. Mark in which the disciples are arguing about who among them is the greatest, and Jesus asks what they were discussing.

“We, too, can be caught up in these same arguments: Who is the most important?” the pope said.

“I remember more than once, at family gatherings, children being asked: ‘Who do you love more, Mommy or Daddy?’” he said. “It’s like asking them: ‘Who is the most important for you?’”

In the lives of individuals and nations, he said, the question of who is most important can take on historic importance because it motivates action and choices. “The history of humanity has been marked by the answer we give to this question,” he said.

“Jesus is not afraid of people’s questions; he is not afraid of our humanity or the different things we are looking for,” Pope Francis told the crowd, which had filled the square before the sun came up. “He knows the twists and turns of the human heart, and, as a good teacher, he is always ready to encourage and support us.”

Jesus takes “our searching, our aspirations, and he gives them a new horizon” and challenges people, he said. Jesus sets aside the “right answers” and replaces them with the standard of love as the measure of all.

Love, he said, is lived in a concrete commitment to caring for others, especially the most vulnerable. It does not see superiority, or the best jobs with the best benefits and it is not about helping just “my people” or “our people,” he said. Such an attitude always leads to judging and excluding some people as outsiders.

“Being a Christian entails promoting the dignity of our brothers and sisters, fighting for it, living for it,” he said.

Pope Francis said he knows the Cuban people and the Catholic Church in Cuba have suffered. Yet, he said, they still know how to celebrate, to praise God and to serve others.

The greatness of a people and a nation, he said, is how it serves the vulnerable.

Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino of Havana addressed the pope at the end of the Mass “in the name of the Cuban people, the Catholics and many other believers, as well as nonbelievers. Thank you for coming to visit our land, our beloved Cuba; thank you for sowing with your pontificate, good and necessary questions in our consciences, which had been sleeping and accustomed to mediocrity.”

He particularly thanked the pope “for promoting the process of renewing relations between Cuba and the United States, which will bring such benefit to our people.”

Normal, friendly and cooperative relations, the cardinal said, should reach not just the highest political levels in both countries, but also promote reconciliation between people in Cuba and Cubans who emigrated.

“Only love and forgiveness among us will be a valid means for a true and peaceful renewal of our Cuban nation,” the cardinal said.

 

Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

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Cuba’s Communist paper says pope’s visit this weekend will confirm good relations with Vatican

September 18th, 2015 Posted in Uncategorized Tags: , , , , ,

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HAVANA — Pope Francis visit to Cuba starting this weekend “will confirm the good state of relations” between the Holy See and the Cuban government, officials wrote in an editorial in the state-run Granma newspaper. Read more »

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Spiritual costs of Cuban embargo have been high, says U.S. priest

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Catholic News Service

The U.S. trade embargo against Cuba turns 55 in October, and its effects are clear in the dilapidated buildings, scant food supply of Cuban stores and infrastructure around the island.

But what’s not easy to see is the spiritual cost. Trinitarian Father Juan Molina, director of the U.S. bishops’ Office for the Church in Latin America, said that spiritual cost has been great.

A vehicle is parked next to the National Capitol Building in Havana in this Dec. 26, 2014, file photo. The Vatican played a key role in restoring U.S.-Cuban diplomatic ties. (CNS photo/Alejandro Ernesto, EPA)

A vehicle is parked next to the National Capitol Building in Havana in this Dec. 26, 2014, file photo. The Vatican played a key role in restoring U.S.-Cuban diplomatic ties. (CNS photo/Alejandro Ernesto, EPA)

“The embargo has literally put a block between two hands, two sister churches working together,” Father Molina said. “The church in the United States is very much a missionary church that goes to very different places around the world, not only to spend time with their brothers and sisters, but also to help them.”

The embargo has prevented Cubans from receiving supplies from the U.S., even during natural disasters and emergencies. Financial donations from U.S. church members and groups that want to help pastoral programs for the church in Cuba also have been blocked. But it also has eroded something even more important to the Catholic Church: a spiritual fraternity between Catholics on the island and those in the United States.

“All that has been lost for last 50 years,” Father Molina said.

Richard Coll, a foreign policy adviser for Latin America and global trade at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said he sees hope, however, and it arrived with the Dec. 17 news that diplomatic relations between the two countries would be restored — a move facilitated by the diplomatic hand of the Vatican.

“It was a day that marked Cuba,” and one largely welcomed by the island’s denizens, said Lourdes Maria Escalona, who works at a Catholic formation center on the eastern end of the island.

In April, Cuba was removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. Both countries opened embassies in each other’s territory July 20, and on Aug. 14, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry raised the U.S. flag at the embassy in Havana.

The hope now, Coll said, is “that there’s no backtracking” by Congress on the flexibility granted to Americans so they can travel to Cuba, which includes permission to travel to the island for religious activities. The greater hope, however, is getting rid of the embargo.

“Certainly the conference (of bishops) in the United States, in conjunction with the Cuban bishops’ conference, for many years, has favored that kind of action, the lifting of the embargo,” Coll said. Such a move can bring about greater dialogue, commerce and contact with the Cuban people, their government, and foster human rights, freedom and democracy, just as it did in the similar landscape of Eastern Europe after the Berlin Wall fell, he said.

“The more they were able to rely on commerce and engage in dialogue with the West, the more possible it became for their own societies to be able to open up to human rights advances and eventually to a move toward democracy rather than pulling away from the West,” Coll said.

Even St. John Paul II, an ardent opponent of communism, favored lifting the sanctions.

“Embargoes,” he said while addressing a group of young people during his visit to Cuba in 1998, “are always deplorable because they hurt the most needy.”

Any benefits that come from the historic thaw have the potential to affect more than just relations between Cuba and the U.S., Coll said.

“Cuba is a key that unlocks many other doors within Latin America,” said Coll. “You can think about the situation in Venezuela, for example … that’s related very much to what’s happening in Cuba.”

Success with Cuba can lead to success addressing issues such as religious freedom, violence and poverty in other neighboring nations. And that’s very much an interest of Pope Francis but it’s also not an interest that began with him, Coll said.

“Sometimes in the press, and elsewhere, there’s a desire to talk about how Francis is a revolutionary and so different from other popes, but on Cuba policy and on many other issues, including even economic policy, I would argue that Francis is very much in the tradition of Benedict XVI, John Paul II, going back to Leo XIII, so this is a chain … it really is a pretty unbroken chain,” Coll said.

Eduardo Azcarate, a native Cuban who lives in Falls Church, Virginia, said he does not like to get involved in politics and does not like to address the embargo. But the embargo has made it complicated for Cuban Catholics like him to help the church and its members carry out its mission.

“If the embargo did not exist … it perhaps would help to facilitate an openness of service, of help to the church” in Cuba, he said.

However, he also tries to understand those who favor the sanctions and those who see it as “holding a chip” to “remind the government about the importance of human rights and religious freedom.”

Just before Kerry arrived in Havana, a group of activists was arrested and released, following a protest in which they wore masks with the image of U.S. President Barack Obama.

The topic of the embargo almost seems unavoidable for Pope Francis, who will head directly from Cuba to the United States Sept. 22.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the pope speaks about that,” Father Molina said, though it may not be a welcome topic in Congress.

“The challenge is that we’re going to be heading into 2016, which is a presidential election year, and I think that most candidates are going to be very cautious and most members of Congress are going to be very cautious about taking any action,” Coll said.

But the pope may see it as a priceless opportunity for world diplomacy, Father Molina said, and as another step in the path of his predecessors.

At a recent panel of policy advisers in Washington, Demetrios Papademetriou, president emeritus of the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington think tank, said directly or indirectly, the subject of the embargo will come up during his U.S. visit.

“Even if the pope does not say the words Cuba directly, he will probably say something about facilitating dialogue and opening up within Latin America,” he said. “After all, let’s not forget that this is a pope that understands, has lived all his life, has preached, became a cardinal, in Latin America. He has lived with these issues,”

Videos to accompany this story can be found at https://youtu.be/Fjzyz3x1Yk4 and https://youtu.be/xYczSMHQOQA.

 

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