Catholic Free Press

Catholic Free Press Digital Edition

  • Mar
  • 28

Pope asks Castro for more church freedom, Good Friday holiday

Posted By March 28, 2012 | 2:29 pm | Featured Article #1
HAVANA (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI spent more than 40 minutes meeting privately with Cuban President Raul Castro and asked the Cuban leader for further freedoms for the Catholic Church in Cuba and attention to certain "humanitarian" situations. Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, told reporters late March 27 that while he could not give the press details about the humanitarian cases raised during the meeting, the pope did give Castro specific names of people in detention or suffering for other reasons the government was in a position to help alleviate.

 

PHOTO:Pope Benedict XVI meets children during a visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre in Cuba March 27. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service
HAVANA (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI spent more than 40 minutes meeting privately with Cuban President Raul Castro and asked the Cuban leader for further freedoms for the Catholic Church in Cuba and attention to certain “humanitarian” situations.
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, told reporters late March 27 that while he could not give the press details about the humanitarian cases raised during the meeting, the pope did give Castro specific names of people in detention or suffering for other reasons the government was in a position to help alleviate.
The pope also asked the government to consider declaring Good Friday a public holiday, Father Lombardi said, adding that the pope explained the significance for Catholics of the day commemorating Jesus’ death. The pope said he hoped that, just as Blessed John Paul II’s trip to Cuba in 1998 led to Cuba recognizing Christmas as a public holiday, he hoped Castro’s government would do the same with Good Friday.
Father Lombardi said Castro did not make a decision at the meeting about Good Friday, nor did the pope expect him to, but he hoped the Cuban government would consider the request.

Pope Benedict XVI celebrates Mass in Revolution Square in Havana March 28. During the service the pope called for full religious freedom and greater respect for human rights in Cuba. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The spokesman said the pope expressed his pleasure at how church-state relations had improved over the last 14 years and expressed his hope for “further developments” so that the church could increase its contributions to Cuban society.
While not giving reporters a specific list of requests beyond the Good Friday holiday, Father Lombardi said that “if the pope says the church wants to act for the good of society, it means he hopes the church can express itself in additional ways,” including by running schools and hospitals and having greater access to the media.
“The pope, like every Catholic, is asking for a chance to give our best” for the good of society, he said.
The private meeting was the third encounter between Pope Benedict and Castro in two days; the president welcomed the pope at the airport in Santiago de Cuba March 26 and greeted him briefly at the end of the pope’s Mass there.
After their private meeting, the pope and president exchanged official gifts. Castro gave Pope Benedict a wooden sculpture of Cuba’s patroness, Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, and the pope gave the president a replica of a 15th-century atlas that has an annex featuring the newly discovered Americas.
The meeting took place in the Palace of the Revolution, a building housing the president’s office, the Cabinet offices and the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba.
Castro, 80, has served as Cuba’s president since 2008 when his older brother, Fidel, now 85, resigned for health reasons.
While the pope met privately with the president, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state, and other Vatican officials met with Castro’s vice president and other government ministers.
The pope had arrived in Havana at noon from Santiago de Cuba, where he celebrated Mass March 26 and prayed before an image of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre.
Pope Benedict’s arrival at Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport was a low-key, informal affair, since the formal welcoming ceremony was held in Santiago de Cuba the previous day.
Havana Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino greeted the pope, a troupe of young ballet dancers performed and a youth orchestra played. A small group of people — perhaps 100 — were allowed to stand outside by the terminal to welcome the pope. Wearing white T-shirts and baseball caps, they chanted “Benedicto, amigo, Cuba esta contigo” (“Benedict, friend, Cuba is with you”).

Pope meets Fidel Castro before leaving Cuba

Pope Benedict XVI meets with Cuba's former President Fidel Castro at the apostolic nunciature in Havana March 28. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service
HAVANA (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI met former Cuban President Fidel Castro in the apostolic nunciature in Havana March 28 and answered the ailing former leader’s questions, the Vatican spokesman said.
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said he was watching the two men through a window, and afterward he spoke with the pope about the conversation, which seemed very animated.
The pope said Castro, who was raised a Catholic, asked about the reasons for the changes in the liturgy after the Second Vatican Council, about the role of the pope and about the pope’s thinking about the larger philosophical questions weighing on the minds of people today.
The meeting lasted about 30 minutes, Father Lombardi said, and the questions were an indication that “now his life is one dedicated to reflection and writing.”
On the liturgy, the pope said Castro told him, “It’s not the Mass I knew in my youth.”
The more philosophical topics included Castro’s curiosity about how the church is handling the ethical challenges posed by scientific and technological developments and the relationship between faith and reason, as well as the pope’s concerns about a growing number of people who don’t believe in God or act as if God does not exist, Father Lombardi said.
“In the end, Commandante Fidel asked the pope to send him a few books” dealing with the questions he had, the spokesman said.
Father Lombardi also said Castro had told Pope Benedict that he had followed the pope’s entire visit on television, and Castro had remarked that he and the pope were about the same age. The pope will celebrate his 85th birthday in April, and Castro will turn 86 in August.
The pope said he told Castro, “Yes, I’m old, but I can still carry out my duties,” Father Lombardi said.
In a statement published on the government’s papal visit website, the former president had said he would be “very pleased” to meet Pope Benedict.
“I decided to ask for a few minutes of his time,” although he said he realized the pope’s schedule in Cuba March 26-28 was rather full.
Castro had met Blessed John Paul II twice: first in 1996 at the Vatican and then in 1998, when the late pope visited Cuba.
When Castro arrived at the nunciature to meet Pope Benedict, Father Lombardi said, he was greeted by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state. The spokesman said Castro told the cardinal “he was so happy” about the beatifications of Blessed John Paul and of Blessed Mother Teresa of Kolkata, whose order has done much for Cuba.
Father Lombardi said Castro was accompanied by his wife, Dalia, and two of his daughters.

Pope acknowledges Cuba’s struggles

By Francis X. Rocca
Catholic News Service
SANTIAGO DE CUBA, Cuba (CNS) — Celebrating an outdoor Mass on his first day in Cuba, Pope Benedict XVI acknowledged the struggles of the country’s Catholics after half a century of communism and described human freedom as a necessity for both salvation and social justice.
The pope spoke March 26 in Antonio Maceo Revolution Square, in Cuba’s second-largest city. He had arrived in the country a few hours earlier, after spending three days in Mexico.
The Vatican had said the square would hold 200,000 people and it was full; several thousand also filled the streets leading to the square. Cuban President Raul Castro, who welcomed the pope at the airport, sat in the front row for Mass.
Tens of thousands of those at the Mass were wearing white T-shirts welcoming the pope as the “pilgrim of charity”; many wore baseball caps to protect them from the hot sun.
Before the pope arrived in the popemobile, the original statue of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, Cuba’s patroness, was driven atop a white truck through the cheering crowd. The statue then was enthroned near the papal altar.
In his homily, Pope Benedict recognized the “effort, daring and self-sacrifice” required of Cuban Catholics “in the concrete circumstances of your country and at this moment in history.” Though now more tolerant of religious practice than in earlier decades, the communist state continues to prevent the construction of new churches and strictly limits Catholic access to state media.
In a possible allusion to reports that the regime had prevented political opponents from attending the Mass, Pope Benedict extended his customary mention of those absent for reasons of age or health to include people who, “for other motives, are not able to join us.”
The pope painted a dire picture of a society without faith.
“When God is set aside, the world becomes an inhospitable place for man,” he said. “Apart from God, we are alienated from ourselves and are hurled into the void.
“Obedience to God is what opens the doors of the world to the truth, to salvation,” the pope said. “Redemption is always this process of the lifting up of the human will to full communion with the divine will.”
Taking his theme from the day’s liturgical feast of the Annunciation, when Mary learned that she would conceive and bear the Son of God, the pope emphasized that fulfillment of the divine plan involved Mary’s free acceptance of her role.
“Our God, coming into the world, wished to depend on the free consent of one of his creatures,” Pope Benedict said. “It is touching to see how God not only respects human freedom: He almost seems to require it.”
The most specific advice in the pope’s homily regarded a topic familiar to his listeners in the prosperous capitalist countries of Western Europe and North America: the sanctity of the “family founded on matrimony” as the “fundamental cell of society and an authentic domestic church.”
“You, dear husbands and wives, are called to be, especially for your children, a real and visible sign of the love of Christ for the church,” Pope Benedict said. “Cuba needs the witness of your fidelity, your unity, your capacity to welcome human life, especially that of the weakest and most needy.”
According to the Center for Demographic Studies at the University of Havana, Cuba’s divorce rate has almost tripled in four decades, rising from 22 divorces per 100 marriages in 1970 to 64 in 2009. The country’s parliament is scheduled later this year to consider the legal recognition of same-sex marriage, in response to a campaign led by Mariela Castro, daughter of President Raul Castro.
Despite his challenges to Cuban society, Pope Benedict concluded his homily by repeating an earlier call for patience with the Catholic Church’s policy of dialogue and cooperation with the communist regime, a process initiated by Blessed John Paul II during his 1998 visit to Cuba.
“May we accept with patience and faith whatever opposition may come,” the pope said. “Armed with peace, forgiveness and understanding … strive to build a renewed and open society, a better society, one more worthy of humanity, and which better reflects the goodness of God.”
A 30-year-old woman in a baseball cap who identified herself only as Xichel told Catholic News Service she and about 100 others traveled about 165 miles from Camaguey for the Mass, and she hoped to see the pope in Havana. Older pilgrims traveled by train or bus, she said.
“I came to see the pope because I am Catholic and he is the successor of Peter, who was the first pope,” she said, adding that she saw Blessed John Paul in Camaguey in 1998.
She also expressed pride that a member of her parish was to read the second reading.
After the first reading, hundreds of people began leaving the Mass. Unlike large-scale papal Masses in other cities, this one had no Jumbotron screens and, to many, the pope looked like a small figure on the distant altar. Many who had been praying and singing seemed not to focus on the homily and began chatting or moving about.
– – –
Contributing to this story was Cindy Wooden in Havana.

Pope bids warm farewell to Mexico, heads to Cuba

By David Agren
Catholic News Service
SILAO, Mexico (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI bade Mexico a warm “adios,” emphasizing he meant, “Remain with God,” concluding a trip marked by outpourings of faith and affection from people in the world’s second-most populous Catholic country.
“I leave full of unforgettable experiences, not the least of which are the innumerable courtesies and signs of affection that I’ve received,” Pope Benedict said March 26 in his closing remarks before departing for Cuba.
The pope used his departure remarks to exhort Mexicans “to be good citizens, conscious of their responsibility to be concerned for the good of all, both in their personal lives and throughout society.”
“In the name of millions of Mexicans, thank you for a visit we will never forget,” Mexican President Felipe Calderon said at the departure ceremony.
During his four-day trip, Pope Benedict received the keys to the cities of Leon and Guanajuato, met with Calderon and celebrated Mass for a crowd that the Guanajuato state government estimated at 640,000. He also greeted Mexicans who lost loved ones to violence.
Pope Benedict recognized the outpourings of affection. The evening of March 25, he emerged from Leon’s Miraflores College, where he was staying, to salute the assembled masses and be serenaded by mariachis in bone-white cowboy costumes.
“Never have I been received with such enthusiasm. Now I can say that Mexico is going to always stay in my heart,” Pope Benedict said in comments translated by his ambassador to Mexico, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, and broadcast on national TV.
Enthusiastic crowds lined streets in the municipalities of Leon, Silao and Guanajuato for all of Pope Benedict’s movements. Many chanted, “Benedict, brother, you’re now Mexican,” reflecting the grand affection shown for the pope, who Mexican and foreign media outlets surmised in stories was less beloved in the country than his predecessor, Blessed John Paul II.
“This could be the only opportunity” to see the pope, said Benito Urrutia, an engineer working in the footwear industry underpinning the Leon economy. “It’s an important event, being close to the representative of Christ.”
“We came here for the love of the pope and to receive his blessing,” added artisan Irma Palomino, who began traveling at 4 a.m. and walked more than three miles uphill to attend the March 25 Mass.
Mexico’s national media gave plenty of coverage to politics during the visit and the “miracle” of uniting the country’s three main presidential candidates at the Mass, along with Calderon and his predecessor, President Vicente Fox, a Guanajuato native.
The visit came as Mexico’s Catholic population continues a gradual decline, measuring 84 percent in the 2010 survey. Auxiliary Bishop Victor Rodriguez Gomez of Texcoco expressed concern with the trend, but said the nearly 5 percent of Mexicans declaring no religious affiliation should be alarming to all Christians.

 

 

 

By Francis X. Rocca
Catholic News Service
SILAO, Mexico (CNS) — Celebrating Mass in the Catholic heartland of Mexico, Pope Benedict XVI told a nation and a continent suffering from poverty, corruption and violence, to trust in God and the intercession of Mary to help them bring about a “more just and fraternal society.”
“When addressing the deeper dimension of personal and community life, human strategies will not suffice to save us,” the pope said in his homily during the outdoor Mass at Guanajuato Bicentennial Park March 25, the second full day of his second papal visit to Latin America. “We must have recourse to the one who alone can give life in its fullness, because he is the essence of life and its author.”
Citing the responsorial psalm for the day’s Mass — “Create a clean heart in me, O God” — the pope said that evil can be overcome only through a divinely inspired change of the human heart.
The pope made note of the monument to Christ the King visible atop a nearby hill and observed that Christ’s “kingdom does not stand on the power of his armies subduing others through force or violence. It rests on a higher power that wins over hearts: the love of God that he brought into the world with his sacrifice and the truth to which he bore witness.”
That message was consistent with Pope Benedict’s frequently stated objections to strategies for social progress that blend Christian social doctrine with Marxism or other secular ideologies.
“The church is not a political power, it is not a party,” the pope told reporters on his flight to Mexico March 23. “It is a moral reality, a moral power.”
In his Silao homily, the pope did not specifically address any of Latin America’s current social problems, but after praying the Angelus following the Mass, he recited a litany of ills plaguing Mexico and other countries in the region: “so many families are separated or forced to emigrate … so many are suffering due to poverty, corruption, domestic violence, drug trafficking, the crisis of values and increased crime.”
Speaking in the central Mexican state of Guanajuato, which was a stronghold of the 1920s Cristero Rebellion against an anti-clerical national regime, Pope Benedict recited the invocation that served as the Cristeros’ rallying cry: “Long live Christ the King and Mary of Guadalupe.”
But reaffirming his message of nonviolence, the pope prayed that Mary’s influence would “promote fraternity, setting aside futile acts of revenge and banishing all divisive hatred.”
The presidential candidates from Mexico’s three main political parties attended the Mass, along with President Felipe Calderon and his family.
The Vatican said 640,000 people attended the Mass. Some Mexicans took long trips just to see Pope Benedict on his first trip to the country since being elected in 2005.
The journey was not easy for many. Thousands of the faithful walked more than three miles from parking lots in the town of Silao, 220 miles northwest of Mexico City.
“This is nothing too difficult,” quipped Jose Trinidad Borja, 81, a retired hardware store owner from Queretaro who boasts of having participated in the annual eight-day diocesan pilgrimage to the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City for 65 straight years.
An army of vendors hawked water, coffee and tamales along the route in addition to Vatican flags and photos of Pope Benedict and his predecessor, Blessed John Paul II, who, with his five visits, became one of the most beloved figures in an officially secular country.
“With Benedict, I feel something indescribable,” said Guadalupe Nambo Gutierrez, a retired secretary from Guanajuato City, who saw the pope in the colonial town March 24 and attended the Mass the following day.
Getting a ticket was another matter. Nambo won a raffle for some of the tickets the Archdiocese of Leon allotted to St. Joseph and St. James the Apostle Parish. Others simply decided to try their luck by showing up — and many could be seen outside the Mass site behind barricades guarded by federal police officers.
Bishop Raul Vera Lopez of Saltillo said his diocese only received its allotment of 2,500 tickets 10 days before the Mass, making it difficult for parishes to plan trips for churchgoers. Still, all the tickets were claimed and more than 6,500 requests were made.
Most of those coming from Saltillo, in northern Mexico, traveled overnight and were expected to return immediately after the Mass. Some parishes opted not to send people to the Mass because of concerns about security along the route.
“We hope that things calm a little after this visit,” said Silao resident Jorge Morales as he walked to the Mass.
The previous evening, after a brief appearance before a crowd in Guanajuato’s main square, Pope Benedict privately greeted a group that included eight people who have lost relatives to violence, much of it drug-related, which has killed nearly 50,000 Mexicans over the last five years.
Addressing his remarks there particularly to local children, the pope called on “everyone to protect and care for children, so that nothing may extinguish their smile, but that they may live in peace and look to the future with confidence.”
On several previous international trips, Pope Benedict has met with local victims of clerical sex abuse, but no such meeting has been announced for this visit.
On March 24, sex abuse victims of the late Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the Legionaries of Christ, held a press conference to present a new book criticizing the Vatican’s failure to act against Father Maciel, whom Pope Benedict eventually disciplined and posthumously repudiated.
– – –
Contributing to this story was David Agren.

 

Pope thanks Latin American bishops, urges continued evangelization

By Francis X. Rocca
Catholic News Service
LEON, Mexico (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI thanked Latin America’s bishops for their hard work in a troubled region and urged them to continue the evangelization campaign he launched with them at their first meeting five years earlier.
The pope spoke during a vespers service at Leon’s cathedral March 25, the second and last full day of his visit to Mexico. The congregation included about 130 Mexican bishops, along with representatives of other national conferences in the Latin American bishops’ council, CELAM.
Pope Benedict said the bishops deserved the “gratitude and admiration” due to “those who sow the Gospel amid thorns, some in the form of persecution, others in the form of social exclusion or contempt.” He also recognized that they suffered from shortages of money and personnel and “limitations imposed on the freedom of the church in carrying out her mission.”
The pope encouraged the bishops to persevere, citing scriptural passages from the Old and New Testaments as evidence that “human evil and ignorance simply cannot thwart the divine plan of salvation and redemption.”
Pope Benedict recalled his first papal trip to Latin America, in 2007, when he addressed the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean in Aparecida, Brazil. That event launched the so-called Continental Mission to revitalize the church across the region, a campaign inspired by the new evangelization that Pope Benedict has made a priority of his pontificate.
The continental mission “is already reaping a harvest of ecclesial renewal,” especially by encouraging the reading of Scripture, the pope said.
Pope Benedict urged the bishops to encourage their priests and offer them, when necessary, “paternal admonition in response to improper attitudes.” He also reminded them that lay Catholics involved in the church’s educational and charitable activities should not “feel treated like second-class citizens in the church.”
Although his speech was principally about encouraging devotion in the faithful, not tackling Latin America’s social problems, the pope urged the bishops to “stand beside those who are marginalized as the result of force, power or a prosperity, which is blind to the poorest of the poor.”
“The church cannot separate the praise of God from service to others,” he said.
Following the vespers service, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State, hosted the bishops at a dinner in the courtyard of the cathedral.
In a speech to his guests, Cardinal Bertone affirmed as a fundamental right the “freedom of man to search for the truth and to profess his own religious convictions, in public as well as private.”
“It is to be hoped that in Mexico this fundamental right will continue to be strengthened, conscious that this right goes much further than mere freedom of worship,” Cardinal Bertone said. Those words were an apparent reference to a proposed constitutional amendment, now before the country’s Senate, that would greatly expand the church’s freedom, among other ways, by making it easier to hold religious ceremonies in public and establish religious media outlets. For much of the 20th century, Mexican law prohibited church-run schools and the public display of clerical garb and religious habits.
Cardinal Bertone’s words were also relevant to Cuba, where the pope was scheduled to travel the next day and where the communist government still prevents the construction of new churches and strictly limits Catholic access to the media.
Human rights advocates in Cuba have been arrested after publicly appealing for meetings with Pope Benedict during his visit, and authorities have reportedly warned critics of the regime not to attend the pope’s public liturgies in the cities of Santiago de Cuba and Havana.

 

Pope arrives in Mexico as ‘pilgrim of faith, of hope, and of love’

By Francis X. Rocca
Catholic News Service
SILAO, Mexico (CNS) — Arriving in Mexico on his second papal visit to Latin America March 23, Pope Benedict XVI said he came as a “pilgrim of faith, of hope, and of love,” promoting the cause of religious freedom, social progress and the Catholic Church’s charitable works.
Bells tolled and the assembled crowd cheered as Pope Benedict XVI appeared through the door of his Alitalia plane at Guanajuato Internal Airport in central Mexico. He was greeted by Mexican President Felipe Calderon and other dignitaries, including Archbishop Jose Martin Rabago of Leon and Archbishop Carlos Aguilar Retes of Tlalnepantla, president of the Mexican bishops’ conference and the Latin American bishops’ council, CELAM.
In his remarks at the arrival ceremony, Pope Benedict paid tribute to the Mexican people’s religious faith and reputation for hospitality, but he addressed the main part of his speech to all Latin American nations, noting that most of them “have been commemorating, in recent years, the bicentennial of their independence.”
The pope related the three theological virtues of faith, hope and charity to challenges the region faces today. In doing so, the pope highlighted themes that he is likely to address again during his time in Mexico and Cuba, where he travels March 26.
Faith fosters social peace based on respect for human dignity, the pope said, adding that “this dignity is expressed especially in the fundamental right to freedom of religion, in its full meaning and integrity.”
That statement has special resonance given that the pope was speaking in the Guanajuato state, heartland of a 1920s rebellion by Catholic “Cristero” rebels against an anti-clerical regime.
Mexico long prohibited church-run schools and the public display of clerical and religious garb, but the country’s Senate is now considering an amendment to the constitution that would significantly expand the church’s freedom in areas, including education.
Catholics in Cuba still operate under severe restrictions under the communist government there.
Addressing an economically underdeveloped region plagued by violence, corruption and dramatic inequalities of wealth, the pope presented Catholicism as a force for social progress. Christian hope does not only console believers with confidence in an afterlife, he said; it inspires them to “transform the present structures and events which are less than satisfactory and seem immovable or insurmountable, while also helping those who do not see meaning or a future in life.”
“This country and the entire continent are called to live their hope in God as a profound conviction, transforming it into an attitude of the heart and a practical commitment to walk together in the building of a better world,” Pope Benedict said.
He then noted the concrete help that Catholics, motivated by charity, offer “those who suffer from hunger, lack shelter, or are in need in some way in their life.”
This charitable mission “does not compete with other private or public initiatives,” the pope said, and the church “willingly works with those who pursue the same ends.” That point was particularly relevant to Cuba, where Catholic charities have become notably active in recent years, sometimes in cooperation with agencies of the communist state.
Addressing his Mexican hosts once again as he concluded, Pope Benedict made an apparent reference to the country’s recent fighting among drug traffickers, which has killed an estimated 50,000 people over the past five years.
“I will pray especially for those in need,” the pope said, “particularly for those who suffer because of old and new rivalries, resentments and all forms of violence.”
Calderon told the pope, “Mexico feels honored to be the first Spanish-speaking country you’ve visited in (Latin America).”
The president touched on the difficulties Mexico has endured in recent years, including the current drought — the worst in 70 years — natural disasters and the H1N1 outbreak in 2009, which compounded an especially difficult economic downturn. He mentioned violence, too, which has claimed nearly 50,000 lives during his administration.
“In spite of it all, we’re still standing,” Calderon said, adding, “because Mexico is a strong people … a people of values.”
– – –
Contributing to this story was David Agren.

Pope calls for patience in fight to bring freedom to communist Cuba

By Francis X. Rocca
Catholic News Service
ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT TO MEXICO (CNS) — En route to Latin America for his second papal visit to the region, Pope Benedict XVI called for patience with the Catholic Church’s effort to promote freedom in communist Cuba, and criticized Catholics who participate in illegal drug trade or who ignore their moral responsibilities to seek social justice.
The pope, flying to Mexico March 23, followed his usual practice of taking a few preselected questions from reporters on the papal plane.
Responding to a question about human rights in Cuba, where he will arrive March 26, and where opposition leaders have been arrested after publicly appealing for a meeting with him, Pope Benedict said that the “church is always on the side of freedom, freedom of conscience, freedom of religion.”
“Marxist ideology as it was conceived no longer responds to the truth today, we can no longer respond this way to construct a society,” the pope said.
But the pope said that the “path of collaboration and constructive dialogue,” which his predecessor Blessed John Paul II initiated with the communist regime, “is long and demands patience.”
“We want to help in the spirit of dialogue to avoid traumas and to help move toward a fraternal and just society” in Cuba, he said.
In answer to a question about dramatic inequalities of wealth in Latin America, Pope Benedict lamented what he called a widespread moral “schizophrenia” that stresses personal morality while ignoring social conscience.
“We see in Latin America and elsewhere that not a few Catholics have a certain schizophrenia with regard to individual and public morality,” he said. “In their private lives they are Catholics, believers, but in public life they follow other paths that don’t respond to the great values of the Gospel necessary for the foundation of a just society.”
While that assessment might have seemed to echo left-wing critiques of the oligarchies that dominate the politics and economies of many countries in the region, the pope declined a reporter’s invitation to endorse even a non-Marxist, nonviolent version of liberation theology, a movement which he severely criticized as head of the Vatican’s doctrinal office in the 1980s and ’90s.
“The church is not a political power, it is not a party,” the pope said. “It is a moral reality, a moral power.”
Accordingly, the pope said, “the first job of the church is to educate consciences … both in individual ethics and public ethics.”
He called for promoting Catholic social teaching even to nonbelievers by an appeal to a “common rationality” which he said could overcome social divisions.
To a reporter from Mexico, who said the fighting among traffickers has killed an estimated 50,000 people over the past five years, Pope Benedict said that the church has a responsibility to “unmask evil, unmask the idolatry of money that enslaves man” as well as the “false promises, the lie, the swindle that lie behind drugs.”
“We must see that man has need of the infinite,” the pope said. “To make present the goodness of God, make present his truth, the true infinite for which we thirst, is the great duty of the church.”
The meeting with reporters, which lasted slightly over 20 minutes, ended on a light note with the presentation of gifts to the pope.
One local journalist gave the pope a silver medal struck to commemorate his visit to the central Mexican state of Guanajuato, a silver mining center. Another journalist, noting the pope’s recent encounters with modern information technology in the form of tablet computers and Twitter, gave him an iPod loaded with Mexican and classical music to entertain him on the flight.
After a 14-hour flight from Rome to Mexico, the pope was scheduled to visit the Archdiocese of Leon March 23-26. The flight will have taken him across seven time zones, to a city 6,000 feet above sea level. From Mexico, he will fly to Cuba, to visit Santiago de Cuba and Havana March 26-28. He will arrive back in Rome March 29 after a 10-hour flight.
It will be his third visit to the Americas, after the United States in 2008 and Brazil in 2007.