This week, Pope Benedict XVI visits Cuba, in the first papal visit since that of John Paul II in 1998. Tensions are high. In an open letter, Carlos Etre of Yale University writes, "Most Holy Father: All of the imprisoned in Cuba need your visit, desperately. Your physical presence will do much to uplift their spirits. … I have but one request: Please meet with the Ladies in White while you are in Cuba."
The Damas de Blancos are the wives and other female relatives of Cuban dissidents who have been jailed or executed since 2003. Two weekends ago, 70 of them were arrested during a protest march, but released a few days later with a warning to lay low during pope's visit. Their case is developing into a cause célèbre, with Christians and secularists alike requesting that Benedict recognize this group. The Ladies themselves request a meeting, "if only for one minute."
The official word is that Benedict's schedule is too tight to allow for extra meetings. Cuba-watchers, including Sen. Marco Rubio, fear it's shaping up to be another schmoozefest between the Catholic Church and the Communist establishment, who claim that Church and state have been friends at least since the 1990s. Even though the pope has been outspoken in his criticism of communism, early reports on Breitbart.com indicate he will not stray from the party line, and that the government, with the cooperation of Cardinal Jaime Ortega, is taking steps to ensure no unsightly protests occur.
But there's another twist to this story: a rumor, first reported in February by the Italian press, that Fidel Castro is about to be received back into the Catholic Church-perhaps even during the pope's visit. (He was excommunicated in 1962). Castro will turn 86 in August and has had more than one brush with death, which tends to focus a man's attention on the hereafter. His daughter now claims, "He has rediscovered Jesus at the end of his life."
This looks more unlikely by the day, but if it turns out to be true, it may be the most under-reported story of the decade. A lively debate on GetReligion.org, and other blogs, addresses the obvious issue of how a man with so much blood on his hands can return to the Church on the basis of a simple confession.
Grace is the answer: grace upon grace, enough to cover the chief of sinners. But if it's true, we may not even hear about it, because a public confession would require a public acknowledgement of sin, and some kind of restoration:
"Behold, Lord … if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold" (Luke 19:8).
The Church's dilemma would be that reinstating Castro quietly would benefit only him. As for Castro, if his heart isn't broken over all those he robbed and jailed and hounded to death, it's not a changed heart. We may never hear about it, but the possibility of a tyrant's conversion is a reminder to pray for him, and for his victims.