by Bishop James T. McHugh
February 6, 1998
Several weeks ago, the Holy Father arrived in Cuba for what was a momentous visit.
Pope John Paul II characterized his visit as a pastoral pilgrimage to this small island nation. But the Pope is not unaware that it is one of the last strongholds of communist socialism and a nation that was once predominantly Catholic. The Holy Father is well aware that his efforts to ignite the faith of the Cuban people are a confrontation with atheistic communism and may be the source of renewed persecution after he leaves. But in Mr. Castro's favor, he had his own expectations of the visit and must know that any renewal of persecution will undermine his attempts to gain status in the world community.
On the first day of his visit, the Holy Father spoke of the family, of economic problems and abortion. One might suspect that he had an eye on the United States as well. "The family, the fundamental cell of society and the guarantee of its stability, experiences the crises which are affecting society itself," said John Paul II. Noting that the social and economic situation in Cuba has created difficulties for family stability, the Holy Father pointed to scarcities of food, clothing and other material goods, the low wages that are not sufficient or have a very limited buying power, dissatisfaction with the communist/socialist system and the attraction of the consumer society. "These and other measures involving labor and other matters," said Pope John Paul, "have helped to intensify a problem which has existed in Cuba for years: people being obliged to be away from the family within the country, and emigration, which has torn apart whole families and caused suffering for a large part of the population."
The Holy Father pointed out how social and economic problems undermine respect for human life and for parenthood. "This happens when married couples live in economic or cultural systems which, under the guise of freedom and progress, promote or even defend an anti-birth mentality and thus induce couples to have recourse to methods of regulating fertility which are incompatible with human dignity. There is even an acceptance of abortion which is always, in .addition to being an abominable crime, a senseless impoverishment of the person and of society itself."
Cuba has one of the highest abortion rates in the world and abortion is often promoted as a method of birth control. One official noted that it is described as "regulation of menstruation," a term often used by abortion promoters. And the Holy Father emphasized that easy access to abortion, along with promiscuity and pre-marital sex, has had "a profoundly negative impact on young people."
John Paul II also said that the family, the Church and the school must work together so that the children of Cuba can "grow in humanity....It is true that in the area of education, public authority has certain rights and duties since it must serve the common good. Nonetheless, this does not give public authority the right to take the place of parents. Consequently, parents, without expecting others to replace them in a matter which is their own responsibility, should be able to choose for their children the pedagogical methods, the ethical and civic content and the religious inspiration which will enable them to receive an integral education."
The Holy Father also made clear his opposition to the economic embargo by the U.S. that is now preventing Cuban development.
But essentially the Pope came as the successor to Peter, the Vicar of Christ. His opening address states it well:
"...On this apostolic journey I come in the name of the Lord to confirm you in faith, to strengthen you in hope and to encourage you in love. I come to share your profound religious spirit, your endeavors, joys and sufferings....I come as a pilgrim of love, of truth and hope, with the desire to give a fresh impulse to the work of evangelization which, in the midst of difficulties, this local Church continues to sustain with apostolic vitality and dynamism, on her way to the third Christian millennium....I am here today to share with you my profound conviction that the message of the Gospel leads to love, commitment, self-sacrifice and forgiveness; a people that follows this path is a people with the hope for a better future."
Bishop James T. McHugh is the Bishop of the Diocese of Camden and a member of the NCCB Committee for Pro-Life Activities.