The Church is ready for Cuba, but is Cuba ready for the Church?
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Pope Francis will arrive in Cuba tomorrow with hopes of aiding the Church's mission in that country. And while Raul Castro is impressed with Pope Francis, it's still unlikely the Church will gain permission to operate freely in the socialist state.
LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Cuba has long restricted the activities of the Catholic Church because the Church's theology conflicts with the communist ideology of the oppressive state. The Church, which was once vibrant in Cuba, operating schools and universities as well as contributing to social welfare, was literally kicked out of the country.
Since then, Cuba has spiraled downward as economic sanctions, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the bankrupt philosophy of communism have ruined the nation's economy. Many Cubans now rely on illegal means to make their living including prostitution.
The Church offers hope that this can be turned around. The Cuban people need moral education, which the Church can provide. The Church is also expanding its role to provide humanitarian and social services to people. These gestures of goodwill are growing the Church in Cuba and causing Raul Castro, the 84 year-old president of Cuba, to consider returning to the Church himself.
Castro insisted to reporters that he is serious about making the return.
Pope Francis will be in the country from Saturday until Tuesday and he will likely walk away with some concessions. It's unclear what those concessions will be however.
Many are hoping that the Church will be able to open K-12 schools and universities again, but old communist fears about the Church will likely prevent that from happening. Historically, Catholic schools were for the wealthy in Cuba, in fact both Fidel and Raul attended Catholic schools in their youth. That educational system was blamed for stratifying Cuban society, creating a class of elites.
Ahead of Pope Francis' visit, Cuba is also releasing over 3,000 non-violent prisoners, a definite sign of thawing relations between the two old adversaries.
It would be surprising if Pope Francis did not leave Cuba with any concessions from Castro, which is quickly warming to the Church. However, Cuba has suffered in the grip of Communism for a long time; whatever happens, change will not be easy for Cuba.
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