The world is a beautiful place—injustices are always decried and, eventually, vanquished. Jesus’ love conquers all.
This was a tenet of my faith that was only strengthened during classes I took to prepare for the sacraments of First Communion and Confirmation. When it came time to pick my Confirmation saint, this sense of justice motivated me to pick a little-noticed one: Saint Thomas More.
When Thomas More was England’s prime minister under Henry VIII—the apex of More’s power—he refused to renounce his beliefs when Henry stopped recognizing the authority of the Pope. Though he was given multiple opportunities to renounce his Catholic faith, he did not relent as was ultimately executed for his “crimes.” Luckily, many modern-day Catholics don’t have to experience such a Hobson’s choice in order to profess and exercise their faith.
However, Pope Benedict XVI and members of his delegation to Cuba are faced with a similar choice. Do they cage one of the central tenets of their faith (justice for all people) and build up their treasures in heaven? Or do they work to build their treasures on earth and ignore a group that is repressed on a daily basis, sometimes violently?
Pope Benedict the XVI has not planned meetings with any dissidents. The long-suffering the Ladies in White, a group that mainly consists of family members of current and former political prisoners, have requested a one-minute audience with the Pope. Repression against the Ladies in White and others has spiked in the lead-up to the papal visit, with mass arrests, the termination (if only temporary) of cell phone service and a stepped-up propaganda campaign designed to create a facade of normalcy. Repression is doled out consistently by the Cuban regime, but it seems excitement about the Pope’s visit has the island’s tyrants serving it up more generously than usual.
The Church’s awesome responsibility to tend to a flock of millions is often complicated by global realities that do not always comport with the tenets of the gospel. It is difficult to imagine a perfect Church, in a perfect country, with a perfect congregation. But perhaps that is the point. Those of us who believe we’re called to be Christ-like should expect the best example of this to come from His representative on Earth. No one demands perfection, but we do put the pontiff’s role as our spiritual leader (dealing with moral absolutes, as few would argue that God deals in ambiguity when it comes to right and wrong) ahead of his role as a diplomat.
The Pope should meet with the Ladies in White, dissidents, independent journalists, and other human rights advocates. Naysayers will say it hampers relations with the Cuban regime, will close the limited space the Church has opened up and will perhaps open up those who meet with the Pope to increased repression. I would tell them to take stock of Saint Thomas More’s decision to stand by his faith. Leave pragmatism and moral relativism to others.
In just days, the Pope will touch down on Cuban soil and be directly confronted with difficult questions of how to deal with ordinary Cubans who, for speaking their minds peacefully, are called “mercenaries” by the hemisphere’s most repressive regime—one that only legalized organized religion in the early 1990s. It’s a difficult position to be in. But then, such is the nature of leading the Church. The Pope is faced with a Hobson’s choice between his faith and earthly convenience. He should follow Saint Thomas’ example and stand by his faith by meeting with the dissidents. For our faith should endure even when it is inconvenient.
Guest contributor, Keith Fernandez, is a second-year student at the University of Florida, Levin College of Law. He is co-founder of One Cuba, a non-partisan group promoting a petition urging the Pope to meet with dissidents, independent journalists and human rights advocates during his upcoming trip to Cuba. The petition can be found and signed at facebook.com/OneCuba