01-04-2012 - Traces, n. 4

Mexico and cuba

Bursting through Barriers
For many of the 32 million Mexican Americans and almost 2 million Cuban Americans residing in the USA, the papal visit takes on a personal character. From the sombrero to the Good Friday holiday, the reawakening of hope in the life of people.

by Jose P. Redondo

U.S. census statistics reveal the human dimension of this reality: A staggering 11% of everyone born in Mexico now live in the USA, and 37% of the Hispanics of Mexican origin in the U.S. were actually born in Mexico. Mexico and the U.S. share a 1,969-mile border, and both countries form part of the NAFTA common market. And Cuba and the United States are also greatly intertwined. The island lies only 90 miles away from the state of Florida where nearly 70% of Cuban Americans reside. The U.S. and Cuba have a unique migration pact since 1994 that allows 20,000 new immigrants per year legally into the USA, so that to run into a recent arrival from the island is a common experience for anyone walking the streets of South Florida.
The personal ties among these three countries are such that Telemundo, one of two of the nationwide commercial Spanish-language TV networks in the U.S., decided to cover the visit of the Pope to these two countries quite extensively, with live feeds of all major events. TV network managers knew their Hispanic audiences would have a keen interest in the impact of the Pope’s visit on these lands.

The heart’s need. As far as the Pope’s visit to Mexico, the Hispanic American general public seems to have focused on their desire for a cessation of the murderous drug-related violence that has gripped Mexico in recent years. In responding to this salient concern, we know that the Pope personally met there with some of the victims of the violence of drug dealers which is estimated to have claimed no less than 50,000 lives in the past five years. At the recent homily in Bicentennial Park in Leon, Benedict XVI explained that the Kingdom of Heaven does not consist in the power of armies which coerces the submission of others through force. Instead, he taught that “the Kingdom is based on a greater power, that conquers the hearts: the love of God.” Echoing these desires, Fr. Roberto Garza, a Mexican American and the Rector of St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami, said, “In the face of the violence in Mexico, it is my hope that the people will listen to the Pope’s words on the need for peace.” He was also impressed by a simple gesture by the Vicar of Christ that seemed to be a continuous unfolding of the Incarnation, by which God dwells among us: “It moved me and filled me with pride to see the Pope wearing a Mexican sombrero. What a message of enculturation!”
On March 27th, on the eve of the Pope’s arrival, Fr. Manny Alvarez blogged from Miami this prayer of hope: “May these days in which the Vicar of Christ becomes a pilgrim himself in the homeland of my parents and grandparents, be days of peace and reconciliation. May Christ reign in the hearts of all Cubans and may all Cuban hearts turn to Christ because only in the presence of the Son of God and the Son of Mary will we truly be free.” Regarding Cuba, the U.S. Hispanic public in general seems to have focused mostly on the theme of freedom, in light of 53 years of an unyielding Communist regime. Even before he arrived to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Our Lady of Charity, the island’s patroness, Cubans began to realize that in Benedict XVI they were welcoming a free man. “It is evident today that Marxist ideology as it had been conceived no longer responds to reality. New models must be found with patience,” Benedict XVI stated freely, responding to reporters while still in Mexico. Many Cubans have spent painful years in jail for far more timid statements that challenged the regime. But the frank yet calm boldness of the Pope freed the President of the Cuban Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba, to fearlessly express in public what his heart desired and had not been stated by a Cuban bishop in 50 years: Marxism needs to be overcome.
Picking up on this same theme, Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami received a standing ovation in the Cathedral of Havana from some 300 Cuban American pilgrims that had accompanied him, as he stated, “Marxism is a spent ideology.” Surely, many of these Cuban Americans had long dreamed of being able to openly denounce in some way on that same soil a regime that had oppressed them personally, and all those in Cuba. But the Archbishop also added this challenging caveat that exempted no one: “To go from the ideological materialism of Marxism to a practical materialism such as that of many Western societies would not be worthy of man.”

Feeling free. “The Pope is challenging the laity to be the protagonists of their own future,” Fr. Chris Marino said upon his return from being with the Pope, which he personally experienced as a “very powerful event.” Several of his Miami parishioners with roots in the island were glad to have seen him on TV while in Cuba. “Freedom and truth, those two words were in every speech by the Pope there,” he added. Not since John Paul II’s historic visit to Cuba in 1998 had the island felt so free. The day after he came back from Cuba, the land of his birth, Bishop Felipe Estevez of St. Augustine, Florida, related how awed he was by what he saw there. “Our experience revealed the strength of the seeds of Christ sown in the life of people. In spite of 53 years of a Marxist-Leninist government which has tried to eliminate religious freedom, the faith of the people is casting away fears and is bursting through the barriers, seeking public expression.” The power of this faith he witnessed in Cuba reminded him that it is futile for governments to pretend to extinguish the inexorable human need to transcend, nor the actions of the living Lord.
Two facts should suffice to convince those that have eyes to see the immeasurable fruits of these Papal trips. In the visit of 1998, John Paul II convinced the Cuban Communist government to declare Christmas an official holiday. For the first time since 1960, Cubans were then able to openly display a Christmas tree or a manger, or simply publicly wish “Merry Christmas” to a stranger, without worrying about losing their jobs or place at the university or being mistreated or subjected to other forms of persecution.
And on March 29th, on the day after Benedict XVI left the island, in response to his petition, the Cuban government announced that Good Friday would also be an official holiday this year and that they would consider making this a permanent move. Americans with kinship and friendship ties to Cuba can be glad that, for the first time in five long decades, the people of Cuba will have a holiday to be attentive to the presence among them of the One who taught by word and deed. No one has more Love than the One who gives His life for the ones He loves: the Prince of Peace, the first free man.