Thursday, March 29, 2012

The right message, in the right place

I'm not Roman Catholic - in fact, I think it's safe to say that a number of my reformation-minded protestant ancestors had a strong antipathy towards the Catholic Church - but every since Pope John Paul II came along I've had a growing admiration of many things the church does, and an appreciation for the power of the papal pulpit.

That admiration grew today when Pope Benedict stood in Revolution Square in Havana, looked the leaders of communist Cuba in the eye and told the Old Testament story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who, as the Pope said, were "three young men persecuted by the Babylonian king (who) preferred to face death by fire rather than betray their conscience and their faith.”

That story had to cause a twinge of guilt in the Castro brothers and the rest of the thuggish Cuban government.

He then went on to tell the audience:

"Convinced that it is Christ who is the true measure of man, and knowing that in him we find the strength needed to face every trial, I wish to proclaim openly that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life. In him everyone will find complete freedom, the light to understand reality most deeply and to transform it by the renewing power of love.

"The Church lives to make others sharers in the one thing she possesses, which is none other than Christ, our hope of glory (cf. Col 1:27). To carry out this duty, she must count on basic religious freedom, which consists in her being able to proclaim and to celebrate her faith also in public, bringing to others the message of love, reconciliation and peace which Jesus brought to the world. It must be said with joy that in Cuba steps have been taken to enable the Church to carry out her essential mission of expressing her faith openly and publicly. Nonetheless, this must continue forwards, and I wish to encourage the country’s Government authorities to strengthen what has already been achieved and advance along this path of genuine service to the true good of Cuban society as a whole.

"The right to freedom of religion, both in its private and in its public dimension, manifests the unity of the human person, who is at once a citizen and a believer. It also legitimizes the fact that believers have a contribution to make to the building up of society. Strengthening religious freedom consolidates social bonds, nourishes the hope of a better world, creates favourable conditions for peace and harmonious development, while at the same time establishing solid foundations for securing the rights of future generations.

"When the Church upholds this human right, she is not claiming any special privileges for herself. She wishes only to be faithful to the command of her divine founder, conscious that, where Christ is present, we become more human and our humanity becomes authentic. This is why the Church seeks to give witness by her preaching and teaching, both in catechesis and in the schools and universities. It is greatly to be hoped that the moment will soon arrive when, here too, the Church can bring to the fields of knowledge the benefits of the mission which the Lord entrusted to her and which she can never neglect."

One of my long-time dreams is to travel to Cuba when it is again a free, open, democratic society, and I'm not at all certain I'll ever have that opportunity. But if I do, it will be - in part - because Pope Benedict had the courage to go to Havana and say these words to a people who have lived under heavy chains for more than half a century.

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