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The Pope, Cuba and the inconvenience of faith

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

About Adriana Villavicencio

Dr. Adriana Villavicencio is the youngest child of Ecuadorian immigrants. She has moved 29 times in her life, taking her on a journey from California to Bangalore, India, and New York City, where she recently earned a Ph.D. in Education Leadership and works as a Research Associate at New York University. An avid traveler, Adriana has collected experiences in four different continents and 16 different countries. But as a former high school English teacher, some of her fondest memories are those of her brilliant and brilliantly funny students in Brooklyn and Oakland. Adriana has contributed to several publications including the Daily News and, and is a managing editor for the Journal of Equity in Education. She earned a B.A. in English and an M.A. in English Education at Columbia University, and currently serves on the board of Columbia’s Latino Alumni Association (LAACU). She enjoys scary movies with red vines, Sauvignon Blanc, and her Maltese dog, Napoleon.

To learn more about Adriana’s education consulting company, please visit

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.


  1. Thank you for taking a brave stance and publishing this on BL. Sadly there are still many Latinos that support the Castro family’s serfdom in Cuba. Many Latinos look the other way when confronted with the reality of 50 plus years of continuos human right violations in Cuba, whether it because it allows them to exercise intense hatred at the United States or because they have been duped by some social justice propaganda regarding alleged free healthcare and education, or out of just plain ignorance.


  3. That godforsaken church and it’s bible are worth nothing.

  4. The Catholic Church does more charity than most industrialized nations.
    David, I think you mean “sell.”

  5. How can one argue with such gems of literate wisdom as the first two!? I am instantly enlightened by their honesty, humanity and how succinctly they solve all the problems in Cuba. I must make sure the Nobel committee hears about this.

  6. Well Val at least BL had the decency to post this and not say anything bad about the right of the Cuban people to have independence. Now, the reaction that the readers on BL will give- that’s another story.

  7. Mario, despite whatever ideological differences, I’m grateful to Being Latino for their support.

  8. Great piece.

  9. Fantastic piece! Thanks for posting and bringing to light the plight of so many who remain voiceless.

  10. Great piece. I likened the last papal visit to Cuba to the circus coming to town. But I see no pocibility of the pope openly meeting with any of the groups you mentioned.

  11. The pope and his church are too filthy to set foot on Cuban soil.

  12. I’m not surprised that the Church has refused to meet with the long suffering dissidents. The Church has a long and foul legacy: from the Inquisition where thousands died horrible deaths, to the selling of indulgences, to collaboration with the Nazis. During the Cuban War of Independence, the Cuban Church sided with the Spanish Crown despite Spain’s brutality. Far from being God’s Vicar on earth, the Pope is nothing more than a politician, and far from being the House of God, the Vatican is a corrupt, dark and byzantine institution. Everyday, I understand more and more what drove Martin Luther to stamp his bull on the cathedral door, and every day, I understand, more and more, the Protestant schism. All that I can say is: how un-Christ-like you are Pope Benedict and Cardinal of Cuba, Jaime Ortega.

  13. An interesting piece. I think I will wait to hear what Pope Benedict XVI will say to the Cuban people and the Cuban regime.

  14. Can’t say as I see any of the fabuously rich protestant preechers or their huge fancy ministries helping the Cuban people either. Its not just one church that isn’t, its all of them.

  15. The true faith places the obedience to God Almighty above any other consideration.

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