The Battle for Cuba’s Soul

The article I chose, “The Battle for Cuba’s Soul, (Papal visit to Cuba)”, appeared in Newsweek magazine on January 19, 1998. The article discussed Cuba’s position on religious activity and the constraints Castro has placed on Cuba’s religious society. It stated the notions of change that both the Pope and Castro hope to install. The article also stated that the Pope looked to install christian faith and individuality in a country that has had its religious freedom oppressed for so long. He looks at the Catholic church as a tool to facilitate the seeds of democracy, however, Castro hopes to prevent this. Castro looks to the world for approval now that the Pope will finally arrive. He sees this as a chance to gain international regard. The reason that I chose this article was because I am religious and am of the Catholic faith. I feel that the presence of religion in my life has been the fundamental ground on which I form my values and beliefs. It is difficult for me to imagine a life without religion. I am inquisitive as to how the Cuban society fills the religious void in their lives. When asked what effects the Revolution had on spiritual beliefs in Cuba, Fidel Castro stated: Those who don’t understand that morale is a fundamental factor in revolution are lost, defeated. Values and morale are a man’s spiritual weapons. As you know, regardless of his beliefs, we don’t inspire a revolutionary fighter with the idea that he’ll be rewarded in the next world or will be eternally happy if he dies. Those men were ready to die - even those who were non-believers - because there were values for which they believed it was worth giving their lives, even though their lives were all they had. (Simon and Schuster, 192- 193) After reading this quote, I realized that religion is more than just attending church, saying prayers and claming a faith in the unknown. For Castro, spirituality were the tools of his Revolution, not spirituality in a god or any deity for that matter. What he was speaking of was spirituality and belief in Cuba and ultimately, the communist regime. It is here, in the midst of the Cuban Revolution, that Castro began forming the atheist views of his country. In providing background information, I chose to look at the presence of religion in other Latin American countries. First, take for example the Mapuche Indians of Chile, and their belief in several gods, ancestral spirits, and the afterworld. Their three primary gods are the creator of the earth, creator of people, and ruler of people. Every thing in Mapuche society is said to have a spirit, therefore is controlled by a deity (Faron 66). The Mapuche pray to their gods for abundance in agriculture, animals, and good health. They also believe that their ancestors walk the earth with the company of the gods (Faron 67). Obviously, the daily life of the Mapuche society involves their deities. Spirit is all around them, enriching every aspect of their lives. Religion is an important part of the Mapuche being and is believed to carry them into an afterworld of rest. The second culture I looked at was the Guatemalan town of Zaragoza. The Catholic faith discussed in the book, To the Mountain and Back, was again a intricate part of the village’s life. There kinship was expressed in ceremonies such as baptism, by asking a member of the higher social status to serve as co-parents for their children (Glittenberg 91). This strengthened relationships throughout the village. Also, the village participated in Sunday mass, and some shared meals after the service (Glittenberg 92). The Catholic religion served as a common ground for this society. While there was some tension outside the village with other denominations, Catholicism was the religion of choice in Zaragoza. It provides a strong faith for these people. Now, as I look to Cuban society, I find that there is a faith. I think that Fidel Castro puts it well here in this statement: Since then, in my revolutionary life - even though, as I told you, I never really acquired religious faith - all my efforts, my attention and my life were devoted to the development of a political faith, which I reached through my own convictions. I couldn’t really develop a religious concept on my own, but I did develop political and revolutionary convictions in that way... (Simon and Schuster 268). Here, Castro speaks of his own personal life dealing with religion, and his views are apparent. These views are also apparent in the Communist party within Cuba. Faith in government, communism and Castro. There is some aspects of religion in Cuba such as santeria, a religion with dominant African roots, Protestantism as well as Catholicism. However, the Catholic church has been oppressed since the Revolution. Catholics are not allowed to belong to the Communist party. They are not allowed to practice openly, such as mass and holidays. This past December, Castro stated that Christmas would be allowed to be celebrated, however, only in the year 1997. Basically, what religion allows, especially the Catholic religion, is freedom of thought. It is powerful and provides people with prospect. Communism promotes prospect in government. In order for Cubans to give everything to the state, devout religion is impossible. As I have pointed out in looking at the other cultures, religion is important in daily life and ultimately, a spirited existence. The cultural impact of religion is extremely significant. The Pope’s visit to Cuba was a monumental event in Cuban society. It gave people hope which rarely exists in Cuba. It allowed people to have allegiance to something other than government. The visit demonstrated that the strictness of the communist regime could become lessened to allow religious freedom of some kind. The Pope raised questions of spiritual existence in Cuba. Castro performed an “act of faith” by allowing the Pope to visit Cuba, and however political it may have been, it impacted his people’s lives. The Pope’s message of Christianity spread like fire in the soul’s of the Cubans. As one Cuban woman stated, “The Pope’s message motivated me, I’ll do whatever it takes to go see him. I now believe in Christ and Fidel.” (Larmer 1). Is this possible, can Cubans have faith in their atheist leader and the word of the Lord?