By Francis X. Rocca
VATICANCITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict's trip to Mexico and Cuba March 23-28 will be a
relatively brief one, consisting of a little more than two days in each
country. Yet his visit is bound to highlight a wide range of prominent issues
affecting an entire continent of crucial importance to the Catholic Church.
arrives in Leon, in central Mexico, late afternoon local time March 23. His
first full day's schedule will be light, no doubt reflecting concerns for the
health of the pope, who turns 85 April 16. Pope Benedict's flight will have
taken him across eight time zones, to a city 6,000 feet above sea level
(compared to only 70 in Rome).
evening of March 24, the pope will meet with Mexican President Felipe Calderon,
who has served as head of state since December 2006. His administration has
been marked by a violent struggle between the military and the country's drug
cartels, a topic that will presumably arise in discussions between the two men.
day, Pope Benedict will address bishops from Mexico and across Latin America at
a vespers service in Leon's Cathedral of Our Most Holy Mother of Light. Here he
is likely to touch on some of the issues that he raised on his only other Latin
American trip, in 2007, when he spoke to the Fifth General Conference of the
Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean in Aparecida, Brazil.
time, the pope urged church leaders to struggle against poverty and oppression
but to shun direct involvement in partisan politics -- an echo of his
long-standing critique of the liberation theology movement, which grew from
Latin American roots. Pope Benedict also warned then against the danger of
syncretism, or the blending of religions, by those who adopt elements of
indigenous traditions in their Catholic devotions -- a practice that the pope
also denounced on his trip in November to the West African country of Benin.
context and timing of this year's speech will likely affect the content of Pope
Benedict's message to the Latin American bishops.
is historically a highly polarized country on religious questions. The
country's 1910 revolution was heavily anticlerical, and the 1917 constitution
forbade religious education and even the public display of clerical garb. Such
measures sparked the Cristero Rebellion in the late 1920s, when conflict
between Catholic rebels and government forces left as many as 90,000 dead.
country remains a mix of highly assertive secular and religious traditions,
making it potentially fertile ground for the new evangelization that Pope
Benedict has made a priority of his pontificate, and which will be the theme of
a Vatican synod of bishops this October.
where the pope goes March 26, is in a sense the mirror image of Mexico. It's a
country where the Catholic Church has enjoyed relatively tranquil dealings with
the civil authorities; diplomatic relations with the Holy See have never been
interrupted, even by the institution of a communist government in the 1960s,
but religious practice has traditionally been as feeble as anywhere in Latin
officials estimate that only about 2.5 percent of Cuba's population of 11
million can be considered practicing Catholics today, a fraction of the
proportion prior to the revolution, though it represents a significant rise
since the visit of Pope John Paul in 1998.
church in Cuba continues to operate under severe restrictions, unable to build
new churches or legally operate schools. However, the role of Cardinal Jaime
Ortega of Havana and other Cuban bishops in successfully negotiating for the
release of more than 100 political prisoners in 2010 reflects the government's
growing respect for church authority.
Benedict will no doubt raise issues of religious and political freedom with
President Raul Castro when they meet on March 27. The pope is also widely
expected to meet with the president's brother, former President Fidel Castro,
although no such encounter yet appears on his official schedule.
reason for Pope Benedict's trip is a pilgrimage to the shrine of the Our Lady
of Charity of El Cobre, the country's patron saint, in the southeastern city of
Santiago. This year marks the 400th anniversary of the miraculous appearance of
the statue venerated at the basilica there.
from Catholic News Service