Media coverage on Pope John Paul II, Cuba,  and Cuban reactions to his death in 2005.

Message Written by Cuban President
Fidel Castro Ruz in the Condolence Book

To Pope John Paul II

Rest in peace, indefatigable battler for friendship among the peoples, enemy of war and friend of the poor.

The efforts of those who wanted to utilize your prestige and great spiritual authority against the just cause of our people in their fight against the giant empire were in vain.

You visited us in difficult times and could perceive the nobility, solidarity of spirit and moral valor of the people, who welcomed you with special respect and affection because you knew how to appreciate the goodness and love of human beings that prompted your long pilgrimage over the Earth.

Before returning to Rome you said that the restrictive economic measures imposed from outside the country were unjust and ethically unacceptable. That earned you forever the gratitude and affection of all Cubans, who today pay you a merited tribute.

Your leaving pains us, unforgettable friend, and we fervently desire that your example will endure.

Fidel Castro Ruz

April 4, 2005

Havana. April 5, 2005

Message written by First Vice president
Raúl Castro Ruz in the condolence book

His Holiness John Paul II protested on behalf of the poor.
He fought for peace. We shall always remember him
with respect and profound friendship.

Raúl Castro Ruz

April 4, 2005

Havana. April 7, 2005

To make the Pope responsible
for the fall of socialism is to make
too simple an analysis of history

Fidel reiterates similarities between the humanist ideas
of the Pope and those defended by the Cuban Revolution

WE fervently want the Pope’s example to endure, confirmed President Fidel Castro during his special address in the International Conference Center to leaders of the Party, state, government and the UJC, representatives of the grassroots organizations and officers and combatants of the Revolutionary Armed Forces and the Ministry of the Interior.

"It honors us," he stated, "that he visited us; I was right," he added, "when I said then that the Pope did not entertain any notion of damaging our people. His sentiments towards the Cuban people were noble, and were clearly and paradigmatically summarized by him on leaving Cuba when he spoke out against the blockade, which he described as unjust and ethically unacceptable. This opinion of the Holy Father, "commented Fidel, "should not be forgotten by the president of the United States when he takes part in the funeral ceremony in Rome.

In the president’s view the death of the religious leader constitutes a tremendously significant event that has touched international public opinion and given rise to a week of mourning throughout the planet.

John Paul II lived during one of the most complex and crucial moments for humanity, in which the world has reached a veritable crossroads, unlike any other point in history. For the first time, the disappearance of our species is a real danger and not just because of war and the proliferation of nuclear weapons; humans are also running unprecedented risks because they are destroying nature, and polluting everything around them, remarked Fidel.

The leader of the Revolution characterized the fundamental features of conflicts of the contemporary era as a basis for understanding the importance of the pontificate of John Paul II, whom he described as an exceptional man, a determined fighter, untiring, whose virtues should not be ignored. "These are our opinions from a human and social focus, in the light of fundamental questions for humanity, although we respect different opinions," he commented.


"It is true," he stated, "that the Supreme Pontiff had a critical attitude to issues which, from his religious standpoint, he believed were poorly accomplished in socialist countries. We should not forget that in Poland, his native country, the nation and the Catholic religion were born at the same time, indissolubly united, a fact that was underestimated by that socialist state, where many errors were committed including those related to respect for different beliefs.

Fidel examined the historical ambit into which the man who became the leader of the Catholic Church for 26 years was born and raised. He also analyzed the political evolution of Europe prior to the World War II, and warned that communism has always frightened the world, including the Cuban people at that time. It was the level of culture achieved by the Revolution that allowed our people to overcome those prejudices.

The Pope was not born or educated to destroy socialism. "Making him responsible for the fall of this system in Europe is to make a simplistic analysis of history," he confirmed.

"Political culture in our country was born with the Revolution," Fidel continued, "because the empire, the oligarchy, the exploiters have made it their task to repeat throughout the world that communism is the most horrible thing to have existed. In the early years after the revolutionary triumph of 1959," he indicated, "they began making outrageous claims, such as that we were going to Cuban families of their of custody rights and send their children to Russia to be processed and turned into canned food. "

He declared that if Cuban socialism were to collapse one day, the blame would lie with no else but ourselves. He also emphasized that once the Cold War was over, the Pope was very critical of the capitalist system.


Fidel narrated his personal experience of religion, dating back to his childhood, and expressed his conviction that the religious sentiments and beliefs of each individual are strictly personal and deserve the utmost respect. "This attitude is the one that should accompany a revolutionary, a politician," he said, and affirmed that we have always fought for dignity, freedom and the rights of all human beings.

He also expressed his gratitude for having had the opportunity in life to study and the usefulness of acquiring the teachings of Marx, Engels, and Lenin in order to undertake the revolutionary leadership and understand the complex events of the world in which we live.

He assured that the Cuban Revolution will never be sectarian; it offers equality of rights, opportunities and support to all religions, with the maximum respect, but should always be on guard against expressions of extremism. As an example of the former, he highlighted the Cuban government’s gesture at the time of the Pope’s visit of declaring that December 25 – Christmas Day for Christians – would become a public holiday from that date.


The Pope was received in Cuba in 1998, said Fidel, and in his sermon that was transmitted across the world, our people recognized the battle that the Supreme Pontiff was waging against underdevelopment, poverty, the external debt and the pillaging of countries, and for the globalization of solidarity, ideas with which the Revolution fully agrees.

He recalled that he had publicly stated those views of the Pope in December 1997 during the session of the National Assembly of People’s Power and later, during a television interview broadcast on January 16, 1998, shortly before the Pope’s visit; thus demonstrating that the Revolution has not changed its opinions. Thus these are points of view that have been sustained for many years and not opportunistic modifications of opinions following the recent death of John Paul II.

In the aforementioned conversation with Cuban television journalists in January 1998, referring to the impression the pope left on him during their meeting in Rome, Fidel stated that it was very good; John Paul II was very amiable and respectful and once could almost say affectionate. "He was a man with a noble face, who genuinely inspired respect, and that impression was shared by all the comrades present at that dialogue.

He reaffirmed that the Pope’s visit to our country took place at a difficult juncture for the Revolution due to the economic situation created by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern European socialist bloc. The empire was maintaining intense pressure that consisted on the one hand of blockading the nation in an attempt to bring it to its knees by hunger and, on the other, of opening its doors to any Cuban – including those committing crimes – by any means. "And we have had to endure those conditions up until now, when things have begun to radically change," he stressed.

He recounted that after the collapse of the socialist camp and above all the Soviet Union, the empire intensified its policy of aggression against the Cuban Revolution. All the calculations indicated that the country could not survive, he noted. "But our people resisted, in spite of suddenly losing all their supplies of fuel, fertilizer and foodstuffs... Our oil production barely reached 700,000 tons per year. We had lost the 14 million tons of crude from the Soviet Union.

"In that context, within the empire and in other places, the Pope’s visit came as something that would lead to the final collapse of socialism in Cuba. They believed that the Revolution would tumble down like the walls of Jericho before the sound of trumpets. But the Pope did not bring trumpets, nor did he come with the intention of destroying the Revolution."

He reiterated that at that point anti-communist propaganda had created the myth that much merit was due the Pope for the collapse of the socialist camp and the USSR. "We tried to give him the reception that he merited, for which it was necessary to explain to many of our compatriots (as he did on television) the significance of that visit and to clarify John Paul II’s position to many people, and the historical and personal conditions that shaped his vision against socialism and communism.

The president went on to comment: "Now our enemies are once again disconcerted at the displays of consideration and affection expressed in Cuba after the death of John Paul II. They are once again disorientated on observing that Cardinal Jaime Ortega has another opportunity to speak to the people on television in relation to the demise of the leader of the Catholic Church in the world.

The only difficult moment during the pastoral visit, he added, was prompted by the words of the Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba during the papal mass in that city. The content of that address created a difficult situation for the people and Santiago Party members invited to the mass. "We weren’t concerned at what he said, but at the reaction and malaise of the people. It was confirmed to me that neither the Pope or Cardinal Jaime Ortega knew of the content of the archbishop’s speech."

Fidel also denounced the machinations of the empire and its lackeys, headed by Roger Noriega, at that time Senator Jesse Helms’ advisor, to spoil the Pope’s visit in 1998, made evident in Noriega’s meeting with the archbishop, the content of which the religious leader reported to the Party authorities.

"It was not us who politicized the visit; at no time did the Revolution attempt to seek material advantages or benefits for Cuba and its socialist process," Fidel observed, moving on to make a rapid reading of what he said in January 1998.

The president of the Councils of State and Ministers listed some of the factors that did not favor the Pope’s presence in Cuba over a number of years, including tensions and differences with the leadership of the Catholic Church in our country during the early years of the Revolution, although the island did have the cooperation of the then representative in Cuba of the Holy See: a man who worked intensively to alleviate and eliminate difficulties.

Fidel also reflected on the recently deceased Pope’s historical courage in publicly criticizing past errors of the Catholic Church such as the Inquisition or its refusal to accept Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.

He detailed the facilities offered at all times by the Cuban government to different Catholic orders like that of St. Bridget, while clarifying that there neither is nor will be differences in respectful treatment in relation to the religions present in Cuba; on that point he gave as one example the inauguration of a Greek Orthodox Church and another Russian one in the future.


Fidel ratified that, from the beginning, the Cuban state and government had acknowledged and praised John Paul II for his stand against the proliferation of nuclear weapons, for being a great standard-bearer in the fight against wars of aggression, territorial conquests, ethnic cleansing and the external debt. At the same time he was a fervent critic of neoliberal globalization and the consumerist nature of the capitalist societies and policies that accelerate environmental degradation. He recalled that the Pope made those and other important condemnations in the United Nations.

For Fidel, the tribute that should be paid to the deceased religious leader is to put his humanist ideas into practice. He castigated the hypocrites who are ignorant of this legacy and are among those principally responsible for the evils humanity is suffering, including the president of the country that produces the largest volume of nuclear weapons and the mobile means to launch them any day, at any moment, on whatever corner of the planet.

He highlighted the hypocrisy of "mister chief of imperialism," who is attending the funeral to weep over the body of a man who fervently opposed war, and the invasion of Iraq. Bush’s visit to Rome, he stated, is an outrage to the memory of John Paul II.

Referring to the constant US government pressure on the Revolution, he noted that on repeated occasions the empire demanded as condition for the lifting of the blockade "to withdraw our internationalist aid to Angola, Ethiopia, to break off our relations with the Soviet Union and end our support for revolutionary movements in Latin America." He recalled: "We never accepted that and that support only ceased to exist when those forces were extinguished by themselves.

He affirmed that the course of history, of so many struggles of the people against the oppressors, has been renewed with a tremendous and unstoppable force, particularly in the Our America dreamed of by Martí. One example of that rebirth is Venezuela, with its revolutionary Bolivarian process and Hugo Chávez.

In another part of his address, the president spoke of Hugo Chávez as a revolutionary of the ideas of Bolívar and Martí, with correct interpretations of Christianity, as his thinking takes into account the Christ who was always on the side of the poor. Fidel observed that Chávez has known how to evaluate the history and traditions of his people.


"Nothing can compare with the pages of humanism that our glorious people are writing," Fidel affirmed, giving the example of the attention received by thousands of Ukrainian children and adolescents affected by the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power station, and with the uncontestable reality that, as opposed to what occurred in other countries of our own region on the part of dictatorships installed by imperialism, not one person has been tortured, killed or disappeared in Cuba.

"That same empire wants to condemn us at the Human Rights Commission," he stated. "Let them do what they like; I don’t give a toss and the people of Cuba don’t give a toss about the Geneva commission," he added before going on to ask what the Europeans are going to do in the next few days when the a vote is taken on the anti-Cuba resolution to be presented by the government of the United States.

"All of them, without exception," he warned, "will come up against a blade that is constantly more honed; in other words, with a stronger Revolution whose humanistic work based on social justice is on the ascent."

He noted that while the United States is trying to condemn Cuba for alleged human rights violations and demanding the release of mercenaries serving prison terms in our country due to their counterrevolutionary activities, it is maintaining five young Cuban anti-terrorist fighters incarcerated in its own jails.

(María Julia Mayoral, Anett Ríos, José A. de la Osa, Alexis Schlachter and Alberto Núñez)


Havana. April 5, 2005


Funeral mass celebrated in Havana Cathedral

Granma daily staff writer

CUBAN President Fidel Castro and First Vice President Raúl Castro expressed their condolences at the death of his Holiness Pope John Paul II in the condolence book at the seat of Havana’s Apostolic Nunciature.

Wearing dark suits, Fidel and Raúl arrived at the seat, located in Miramar, shortly before 5:00 p.m. accompanied by Felipe Pérez Roque, foreign minister, Carlos Valenciaga, member of the Council of State and Caridad Diego, head of the Religious Affairs Office of the Communist Party. There, they were received by Monsignor Luigi Bonazzi, papal nuncio in our country.

Many leaders of the Revolution and Cubans, believers and non- believers went to the Nunciature to sign the condolence book.

A funeral mass for His Holiness Pope John Paul II was celebrated in a packed Havana Cathedral, attended by President Fidel Castro.

Over 1,000 people inside the cathedral and many others standing outside, listened to the homily given by Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino, who recalled the Pope as a person who worked untiringly for peace in the world, Christian unity, rapprochement with the Jews, the promotion of inter-religious dialogue and the merging of science and faith.

Havana’s archbishop affirmed that the church and the world have lost a man who was a reference point in terms of his firm ethical position, who communicated to the world security and confidence in the destiny of humankind and who stirred consciences with his appeal to be ethically responsible for the future, which he did with exceptional power of communication.

“As a messenger of truth and hope, we recall his visit to Cuba. During those days of his stay among us, some men and women from our people said things to us like this: “these have been four days in which our hearts have opened up,’” Cardinal Ortega reflected.

In celebrating the Holy Eucharist, Cardinal Ortega, who is also the president of the Cuban Synod of Catholic Bishops, asked that from his happy eternity, Pope John Paul II would continue accompanying the Cuban people and Church, “so that the testimony of his life and his loving dedication will bear fruit among us. “

In the ceremony, Monsignor Luigi Bonazzi, the papal nuncio in Cuba, affirmed that the world belongs to those who most love it and know best how to express it, for in the end, those are the sentiments that endure; for that reason John Paul II remains with us, for he made of his life a continuous act of love towards the Church and the world. The representative of the Holy See also reflected on the Pope’s visit to our country in 1998. As he stated, that was an encounter prepared with much attention by the Cuban civilian and religious authorities. He added that they were four days of genuine celebration, born from a communion of all Cubans, drawn by the Holy Father’s presence.

The mass was attended by members of the Political Bureau, including Ricardo Alarcón, Carlos Lage, Esteban Lazo, Abel Prieto and Pedro Sáez as well as Felipe Pérez Roque, minister of foreign affairs; a large group of ministers and members of the highest ranks of the government leadership; Caridad Diego, head of the Office of Religious Affairs of the Central Committee of the Communist Party; and Armando Hart Dávalos, head of the Martí Program Office, among other revolutionary leaders. Representatives of other Christian churches and religious denominations were likewise present at the mass, as well as members of the accredited diplomatic corps in Havana.

President Fidel Castro Pays Tribute to Pope John Paul II

Havana, Apr 5 (Prensa Latina) Cuba´s President Fidel Castro praised Pope John Paul II for his support of world peace and defense of the poor before joining other government officials, diplomats and church leaders at Havana´s Cathedral for a funeral Mass in honor to the late pontiff.

Before attending mass, led by Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega, Fidel Castro, dressed in a dark suit and tie, signed the condolence book at the Papal Nunciature, the Vatican Embassy in Havana, where he highlighted the Pope as a fighter for peace and the poor.

"Rest in peace, tireless fighter for friendship among peoples, enemy of war and friend of the poor," Castro wrote in the condolences book at the Papal Nunciature, the Vatican´s mission in Havana.

Accompanied by his brother, Defense Minister Raul Castro, and Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque, President Castro also recalled John Paul as an "unforgettable friend" who would be remembered on the island for speaking out against the U.S. blockade during his January 1998 visit.

"This earned you the gratitude and the affection of all Cubans forever," Castro wrote.

The Cuban president also wrote that the efforts by those who wanted to use the pontiff´s prestige and enormous spiritual authority against the just cause of the Cuban people in their struggle against the giant empire (the United States) were in vain.

Fidel Castro underlined, "you visited us in difficult times and you were able to feel the nobility, spirit of solidarity and moral value of the people who welcomed you with special respect and affection".

Before signing the book, he finished his tribute stressing: "we wish fervently that your example lives forever".

Cuban Army General and First Vice President Raul Castro had previously signed the condolences book in which he wrote, "John Paul II, His Holiness, fought in favor of the poor, struggled for peace. We will remember him with respect and profound friendship."

The Cuban government has declared three days of national mourning for the Pope´s death and canceled all recreational and festive events. The Cuban flag is flying at half mast in all public buildings and military institutions.

April, 2005

HAVANA, 2 APRIL 2005. 16:00 HRS.
Foto: Roberto Morejón

The Cuban people and government have followed closely and with extreme interest, as have other peoples of the world, the evolution on the health of His Holiness Pope John Paul II.

It is with profound grief that we have now learned of his passing away. We always saw Pope John Paul II, and we will continue to see him, as a friend. Somebody concerned about the poor, who fought neoliberalism and struggled for peace.

We will always remember with gratitude his visit to our country in 1998, his friendly words. We will always remember, as well, his statement against the blockade endured by our people, which he regarded as “restrictive economic measures imposed from outside the country, unjust and ethically unacceptable.”

Our people welcomed him with respect and sympathy. Our people and our government will not forget the Pope’s visit to our country, his cordial welcome to President Fidel Castro on the occasion of his visit to the Vatican, and we will never forget the imprint that his visit left in us.

In this moment we express our message of condolences, of respect for and solidarity with the Catholic faithful, in Cuba and around the world.

We are also informing that all activities relating to the funerals will be extensively covered in our country.

We will proceed to send an official message of condolences from President Fidel Castro to His Very Reverend Eminence, Cardinal Eduardo Martínez Somalo, Chamberlain of the Holy Roman Church.

Foreign Minister Perez Roque 
signs condolence book in Havana
Papal Nuncio Luigi Bonazzi to his left



Havana City Historian Eusebio Leal
announces Cuban photo exhibition

Photo Exhibition Opened in Havana to Honor John Paul II

Havana, April 8 (AIN) A photo exhibition was opened Friday at the Jose Marti Memorial, in Havana´s Revolution Square, to pay tribute to His Holiness John Paul II.

The exhibition was inaugurated by the director of the Jose Marti Program Armando Hart Davalos in the presence of Culture Minister Abel Prieto and other personalities.

Also present at the opening were Jose Miyar, secretary of the Cuban Council of State, Communist Party officials as well as the papal nuncio in Cuba, Luigi Bonazzi, and representatives of the island's religious community.

Havana historian Eusebio Leal stressed that Pope John Paul II was a sincere friend of Cuba, a country for which he expressed his own predilection in repeated affectionate messages.

Leal also recalled the friendly relationship between Cuban President Fidel Castro and the Holy Father who passed away last Saturday, aged 84. Leal said that his legacy will transcend the ages and added that he was able to face up to the big challenge of the century, wars, which he detested like all good men who love and fight for permanent peace.

The photo exhibition, which will be open to the public until April 22, is made up of 56 pictures depicting the official visit to the Vatican by Cuban President Fidel Castro in 1996, and his meeting with Pope John Paul II, as well as the visit to Cuba by the Pope in 1998.

The exhibition also includes coins and medals commemorating the pontificate of Karol Wojtyla, who was Pope for more than 26 years.

Also present at the exhibition opening were Jose Miyar, secretary of the Cuban Council of State, Communist Party officials as well as the papal nuncio in Cuba, Luigi Bonazzi, and representatives of the island's religious community.

Cuban President Sends Condolences to the Vatican

Havana, April 4 (AIN) President Fidel Castro's message of condolences to the Vatican upon the death of Pope John Paul II was highlighted in the local media across Cuba.

Sunday's edition of the newspaper Juventud Rebelde published the official government statement as well as a decree establishing three days of mourning following the pontiff's passing.

The daily also included declarations by Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque, who expressed the nation's grief for the death of Pope John Paul II and added that the Cuban people will continue to see the Pontiff as a friend.

Several events will be suspended in honor of the Pope; these included festive activities that had been planned in Cuba on the occasion of the anniversaries of the Young Communist League and the Jose Marti Children's Organization.

In addition, the finals of the national baseball playoffs were postponed until after the three-day official mourning.

Regular radio and television programs were also modified, with more subdued music to be played, while ample news programming will be devoted to Pope John Paul II and details on his funeral.

The weekly Havana Tribuna's front page read, "World Saddened by Death of Pope John Paul II" and an article stated, "The Cuban people will always remember his visit to our country with gratitude."

A book of condolences was available for signing at the Vatican's diplomatic representation in Havana on Sunday afternoon and a funeral mass is scheduled for Monday night at the Havana cathedral.

Ricardo Alarcon Leads Cuban Delegation at Pope´s Funeral

Havana, Apr 5 (Prensa Latina) Cuban Parliament Chairman, Ricardo Alarcon, is heading Cuba"s delegation to Friday"s funeral of Pope John Paul II, who died last Saturday at the age of 84 due to kidney and respiratory failure.

The delegation is also made up of Caridad Diego, head of the Communist Party Central Committee"s Office for Religious Affairs, and Teresita Vicente, director of the Foreign Ministry for Europe.

The body of Pope Karol Wojtyla, his Polish name before becoming the Pontiff on October 18, 1978, is laying in state at San Pedro"s Roman Basilic main altar.

The Cuban government decreed three days of official mourning until Tuesday, suspending all sports events or celebrations on the anniversary of the Young Communist League. Flags will be hoisted half mast at all public and military institutions.

On his Jan. 21-15, 1998 visit to Cuba, John Paul II was greeted with the sympathy from the government and people as a restless champion of peace. During his visit he condemned the over four-decade "unfair and unacceptable restrictive measures forced on the Island".

Cuba's Ricardo Alarcon meets
Brazil's Lula in Rome.


Genuine and Spontaneous
Cuban Reaction to Pope's Death

Havana, April 4 (AIN) The charisma and sense of justice of Pope John Paul II both outside and inside the Catholic Church brought a genuine and spontaneous reaction from the Cuban people upon his death.

In statements to the press in Havana, Caridad Diego, head of the Office of Religious Affairs at the Central Committee of Cuba's Communist Party, said the Pontiff was a renowned international figure with close contact to the people resulting from his visits to 129 countries.

The Cuban official pointed out that Pope John Paul II had seen with his own eyes the problems of humanity and highlighted his criticism against exploitation and savage capitalism.

She added that that the Pope was a man loyal to his ideas and convictions. He was a figure that fought for peace and against war, said Caridad Diego,

After describing the Pope's visit to Cuba on January 1998 as historic, Diego said that the sentiment of sorrow and pain of the Cuban people is genuine and spontaneous for the death of the head of the Roman Catholic Church, with which the island has maintained diplomatic relations since 1935.

The Religious Affairs official pointed out that Cuba has been following closely the Pontiff's health and that the Cuban Catholic Church has received the support of the local authorities and government.

Pope John Paul II, who will be buried on Friday, was a figure that expressed affection towards the island and recalled that on various occasions he had criticized Washington's economic blockade against Cuba, said Caridad Diego.

Cuban Foreign Minister Offers
Condolences at Vatican Embassy

Havana, April 4 (AIN) Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque expressed the Cuban people's sentiment of respect towards Pope John Paul II after signing the book of condolences on Sunday at the Vatican embassy in Havana.

Luigi Bonazzi, the Vatican representative in Havana, welcomed Perez Roque, who was accompanied by the head of the Office for Religious Affairs of the Central Committee of Cuban Communist Party, Caridad Diego Bello.

Upon the death of the Pontiff on Saturday, the Cuban government announced "We express our condolences, our respect and solidarity to Catholic believers in Cuba and the rest of the World."

The foreign minister informed that all activities related to the funeral services, scheduled for Friday, April 8, will receive ample coverage by the Cuban media.

Perez Roque recalled his people's gratitude for the Pontiff's visit made to Cuba in January, 1998. He said Cubans will always remember his declaration against the US blockade of the island, which he described as unjust and ethically unacceptable.

The Vatican representative pointed to the sorrow expressed by the Cuban people for the physical disappearance of Pope John Paul II who passed away at the age of 84.

The Council of State of the Republic of Cuba declared three days of official mourning. The decree, signed by Cuban President Fidel Castro, ordered the national flag to fly at half mast at public buildings and military installations for a period of three days staring April 3rd.

In addition, festive activities that were programmed on the island on the occasion of the anniversaries of the Young Communist League and the Jose Marti Children's Organization were suspended.

Even the finals of the national baseball playoffs between Santiago de Cuba and Havana Province were postponed until the end of the national mourning.

John Paul II and Fidel Castro:
Two Historic Meetings

Havana, Apr 4 (Prensa Latina) Seven years ago, when Pope John Paul II visited Havana, the whole world closely followed his historic meeting with Cuban President Fidel Castro.

That was not the first time they met. In November 1996, John Paul and Fidel Castro held talks at the Vatican. "It was a miracle," the Cuban leader said then.

Fidel Castro considered it a miracle that such an extraordinary person had granted an interview with a modest revolutionary fighter and politician.

"I do not have merits for people to consider my contacts with the Pope extraordinary. His humbleness and greatness to receive me is what should be highlighted," he maintained.

Media and people expecting differences between the Island leader and John Paul II largely covered their meeting, which was mostly characterized by respect and mutual admiration.

Upon arrival in Havana on February 26 1998, when the Cuban statesman and ecclesiastic authorities received him, the Supreme Pontiff said he felt profoundly satisfied.

"It is a great pleasure to greet President Fidel Castro, who had the gesture of receiving me and to whom I want to convey my gratitude for his warm welcome," the Pope noted.

Fidel told John Paul they shared views on many key international issues but he respected those on which they differ and the profound principles upon which his ideas were based.

"Here you will meet an educated population with which you can freely talk about everything. They are talented people, with a vast political culture, profound convictions, knowledge and respect to listen to your words," added the president of the Caribbean country.

On his second day in Havana, John Paul paid a courtesy visit to his host, with whom he met for 45 minutes and exchanged gifts.

Closing the visit, Fidel Castro congratulated the Pope for the example they had given the world.

"You, by visiting what some people nicknamed the last communist stronghold, we, by receiving the religious leader they wanted to blame for the break-up of socialism in Europe," he stressed.

Meanwhile, John Paul II publicly condemned the US blockade on Cuba. "It is unjust and unacceptable," he denounced.

Thus, John Paul II left the Cuban people and their leader with a message of peace and love.



Pope John Paul II in Havana's Revolution Square

Havana, Apr 4 (Prensa Latina) The mass that Pope John Paul II gave on January 26, 1998 at Havana´s Revolution Square caused particular emotion among Cubans and undoubtedly the Pope himself.

That emotional day, like others during the first visit by a chief of the Vatican State to the Island, is recalled today by all Cubans, who respectfully mourn his death.

Cuban President Fidel Castro, wearing an elegant suit, sat in the first row of seats reserved for dignitaries and special guests in the audience, very attentive to the message of the Pope in his fourth and last mass in Cuba.

"Cuba, friend, the Pope is with you!" were his first words to hundreds of thousands of people that jammed Revolution Square, with a massive statue of Jose Marti witnessing the historic event.

John Paul II had already seen the site during the tour he made of Havana the day he arrived in Cuba, amid a crowd that welcomed him with impressive hospitality.

Five days later, thousands of Cubans, believers and non-believers, crowded the square on that winter, sunny morning. "I feel very happy to be here with you to celebrate the Sunday Eucharist," said the Pope.

He had arrived in his jeep, which came along an open path with people on both sides. The Cuban president was accompanied by Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Nobel Prize winner in Literature. Hundreds of foreign guests, invited by the government, Cuba´s ecclesiastical hierarchy, or simple parishioners, were also present.

He spoke of faith, relations between the State and religion, and the search of justice and freedom. He also noted "capitalist neoliberalism subdues human beings and nations´ development to the blind forces of market, charging the least developed countries with intolerable taxes."

"This way, some nations allow for the exaggerated enrichment of a few at the expense of impoverishment of a growing minority, making the rich richer and the poor poorer." These were among the most applauded remarks from an audience that knew and agreed with them.

The same happened when he advocated the Church should continue speaking of social issues as long as the world witnesses acts of injustice, no matter how insignificant they are.

The Pope then said Cuba must "overcome isolation," something that Cubans interpreted as a critical reference to the US blockade against the Island.

This would not be the last remark on the issue.

When the ceremony concluded, President Fidel Castro walked to the stage and they both greeted cordially, as on other occasions during his visit, thus strengthening a relation of respect and sympathy.

Seven years later, Cubans still remember him.


Cuban front pages - April 2005
Front Page of Granma daily on the Pope's death

Front page of Tribuna, on the Pope's death:

Front page of Juventud Rebelde on the Pope's death:

Juventud Rebelde: Cubans honor a good pastor

Front page of Granma with Fidel's speech on the Pope 

Front page of Juventud Rebelde with Fidel's speech on the Pope

La Jiribilla file on the Pope (Spanish)

Democracy Now! on the pope's legacy

The Politicization of Religion in Transitional Cuba

Lisandro Otero: The last vestiges of the Cold War dies with Wojtyla

Frei Betto: Liberation Theology and the Pope

Jonathan Steele: Gorbachev, Not the Pope, Ended Communism

A Cuban priestess of the Afro-Cuban Santeria religion attends mass at the Cathedral of
Havana April 3, 2005. Cubans filled churches for services for Pope John Paul II, the only
pontiff to set foot on the island. It was a 1998 visit that brought greater religious freedom,
though not the opening up of the West's last Marxist state that many had expected. Cuban
President Fidel Castro decreed three days of official mourning and suspended planned
Communist Youth festivities and the finals of the official baseball league.
03 Apr 2005 REUTERS/Claudia Daut

The Pope's 1998 Visit to Cuba
Papal visit coverage, Granma International January 1998

Pacifica radio Democracy NOW! on the Pope's 1998 visit

Nelson Valdes: The Last Revolutionary Offensive of Fidel Castro

Nelson Valdes: Miami After The Pope's Visit to Cuba

Karen Lee Wald: Popes, Prostitutes and Prisoners (1999)

Cuba Meets The Pope -- And Both Walk Away Winners (1998)

Assata and the Pope (1999)

Linard: Guarded Raprochement between Rome and Havana

Jeanette Habel: Banking on the Church (1997)

Speeches by Pope John Paul in Cuba (in English)

Anti-Communist Pope failed
to open up Castro's Cuba

By Anthony Boadle


Updated: 3:35 p.m. ET April 2, 2005

HAVANA - Pope John Paul II helped bring down the Berlin Wall, but hardly dented Cuban Communism despite a landmark visit that many thought would open up the Western Hemisphere's last Marxist state.

Chants of "Freedom, Freedom" rang out during a mass the pontiff held in Havana's Revolution Square on Jan 25, 1998, attended by more than 300,000 Cubans, including President Fidel Castro, who smiled occasionally.

The Pope called on Cuba to open up to the world, while condemning the evils of both communism and capitalism in his homily in the massive square, symbolic home of Castro's 1959 revolution.

"She needs to open herself to the world and the world needs to draw close to Cuba," he said.

The five-day visit was the first by a pontiff to the Caribbean island and came as the one-party state's grip was slipping amid a deep economic crisis and isolation that followed the demise of the Soviet Union.

Many Cubans, aware of the impact of the Pope's triumphant trips to his once communist homeland Poland, hoped the visit would speed social change and relieve their hardship.

Castro, who had a Jesuit school education, declared Cuba an atheist state after his revolution ousted a right-wing dictator.

Spanish priests were expelled, churches closed and many Catholics sent to labor camps, including the current Archbishop of Havana and Cuba's top prelate, Cardinal Jaime Ortega.

In 1992, however, as Havana began negotiations with the Vatican for a papal visit, atheism was officially dropped. Cubans, even members of the ruling Communist Party, could become believers, read the Bible in public, wear crosses and go to mass without fear of persecution.

Christmas was reinstated as a holiday in December, 1997, as a gesture to the Vatican ahead of John Paul's visit.

The government allowed religious processions outside church buildings for the first time, and the Pope's open-air masses were broadcast live on state-run television.


But the coming of the man dubbed the "exterminating angel" of Communism, even by Castro himself, had little impact other than greater freedom of worship for Catholics and followers of other Christian faiths.

During the visit, world attention was distracted by the eruption of a sex scandal involving President Bill Clinton. American television anchors hastily packed their bags in Havana and rushed back to Washington to cover the breaking Monica Lewinsky case of sex in the White House.

Once back in Rome, the Pope compared his Cuban trip to the one he made in 1979 to his native Poland and hoped it would set off a train of events that would benefit the Cuban people.

Two weeks later, Castro did concede to the pontiff's plea for the release of political prisoners, and Cuba freed more than 300 people from its jails.

But the Roman Catholic Church's quest for access to education and the media -- a radio station was suggested -- were denied.

"The visit was a major event for the Church," said Father Jose Corado, the priest at Santa Teresita parish in the eastern city of Santiago. "A Church, that had been confined to its temples for so long, took to the streets."

While in Cuba, the Pope united the people, telling them the future was in their hands. They enthusiastically listened to his message about opening up to the world.

But the aftermath was a disappointment, as authorities moved to curb the impact of the visit, Corado said. "There have been no advances," the priest said.

In March 2003, Cuba cracked down on dissent and jailed 75 pro-democracy activists, half of them from a civil liberties campaign called the Varela Project, led by Christian Democrat Oswaldo Paya. Three men who hijacked a ferry in a bid to reach Florida were summarily executed by firing squad in April.

The Pope expressed "deep pain" at the executions in a letter to Castro in which he also appealed for clemency for the imprisoned dissidents. He got no reply.

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Religion in Cuba
Cuba shares a common history with Latin America, starting with the conquest and European colonization, but there are some differences. One of these is the fate of its indigenous peoples.

In most of the continent, especially where the great pre-Columbian civilizations were located, for various reasons the aboriginal cultures maintained deep roots, and within that culture, the religious practices of those peoples. But in the Antilles there was a rapid extermination of the native peoples, and as a result the traces of their religious beliefs were less perceptible.

It has been confirmed that Caribbean cultures such as the Arawacs who inhabited Cuba had a faith with strong elements of animism, magic and mythology. The supernatural was represented by a group of deities represented by their cemis (handmade figures), they had festivals such as areítosand defined priestly duties associated with cures, predictions and preserving traditions.

The Spanish conquistadors imposed their culture, their language, their civilization, their form of representing and interpreting reality and reacting to it, and of course their religion, Catholicism. With the backing of colonial authorities, for a long time Catholicism was the official and exclusive religion of the territory.

However, due to the arrival on the island of hundreds of slaves from Africa, during the colonial era, various religious manifestations were introduced by the different African peoples who made up that human cargo.

Since then, the Spanish and African cultures have constituted the main ethno-cultural roots of Cuban nationality, with influences from other cultures (the Caribbean, the United States, China and the rest of Europe), in a complex process of transculturation and racial mixture which has had the consequence of creating a completely unique religious composition.

The original African religions were modified by the conditions in Cuba when their bearers were uprooted from their natural environment, and submitted to cultural involution and interethnic relations. This led to a variation of their myths and cult objects. Many of the African precepts mixed with those of Catholicism, resulting in a symbiosis which has lasted to the present day.

Due to the rigors of slavery, rites of protection and divination took preference while others - such as those related to fertility - were reduced in importance. Thus various Afro-Cuban religious expressions developed.

Out of the Yoruba culture came Regla Ocha, popularly known as Santería, centered around a set of orichas (deities) with different myths and attributes. Among the most important orichas are Olofin, Olorun or Oloddumare, deity of creation.

The leaders of Santería are santeros (babalochas) and santeras (iyalochas), with other secondary leaders and functions. The most systematized and complex form of this religion is the cult of Ifá, the deity whose main attribute is divination, sustained by the maximum religious authorities, the babalawos.

Out of the practices of the peoples from the kingdom of the Congo came what in Cuba is called Regla Conga, Palo Monte or Palo Mayombe, a set of religious forms centered on the cult of natural forces.

An important element of this creed is the nganga, the recipient bringing together a variety of objects and organic and mineral substances in which the "fundament" of the religion is believed to reside, and it is zealously guarded by the leaders of the cult. The highest level is Tata Nganga, who have empirical knowledge about endogenous medicinal plants. Mayombe, Brillumba and Kimbisa are cults which sprang up in Cuba.

Another African religion, based in western Cuba, is Abakuá, a secret society for men only, also known as ñañiguismo. It emerged at the start of the 19th century and is similar to organizations from the Nigerian zone of Calabar, the land of the Carabalís.

These associations have an orientation of mutual protection and aid, in accordance with mythology. They are organized in groups called plazas, with a team of leaders who have varying ritual and organizational functions.

Various other less popular religions are also practiced in western Cuba, coming from different ethnic groups, such as Arará and Iyesá.

The religious cults of African origin have less theoretical, ethical and doctrinal development than Christian religions. They concentrate on representational systems, symbols and rites based on myths and linked to nature, the ancestors (spirits) and daily life.

In the Abakuá societies, structures have been created that apply to several local groups, and within Santería there are units such as the Yoruba Cultural Association of Cuba, representing a considerable number of babalawos or priests of the Ifá cult.

These religious expressions, in particular Santería, are very well accepted by the population, but due to the fact that religious practice is non-institutional (except for Abakuá, which has temples, these activities are carried out in the practitioners' homes), it is difficult to calculate the number of believers, cult leaders and groups.

African influences are seen in Cuba in the daily activities of men and women on the street and in national culture, especially music, dance, musical instruments and visual arts.

Spiritualism, a religious mixture of U.S. pragmatism and philosophical empiricism which first emerged in the United States and took hold throughout Europe, is widespread in Cuban society. It arrived in Cuba during the mid-1800s and extended first to the areas where the wars of independence were being fought. Several tendencies began to appear, mixed with elements of African religions and Christianity and tied very strongly to daily life. These forms are practiced collectively, in spiritualist centers and associations, as well as in consultations with individual mediums, but without a federation to bind them together, although at the present time there are signs of growing unity.

Protestant religions were introduced in Cuba relatively late because they were blocked by colonial legislation protecting the Catholic Church. The first major Protestant organizations were founded at the end of the 19th century on the initiative of Cubans who had emigrated to the United States, although the most stable denominations were founded later on, following the U.S. intervention in 1898.

Protestantism proliferated during the first 50 years of the Republic with the support of U.S. missionary groups. As a result, many of the Cuban groups adopted the missionary model and a diversity of denominations typical of U.S. society were established.

There are other religious groups with lower numbers of practitioners, some associated with poor immigrants such as Haitians (voodoo) and Chinese peasants, whose religious contribution is little known. In both cases, only a portion of the Cuban descendents of those nationalities continue to practice those religious creeds.

Judaism is also practiced on the island, and there are several synagogues.

Eastern philosophical and religious sects exist, such as the Theosophical Society and Baha'i, among others.

As for Masons, there are currently more than 26,000 in Cuba, registered at 314 lodges throughout national territory. The area with the largest number of members and groups is Havana.

Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the Constitution of the Republic of Cuba.

(Taken from: Cubasí){A28E4BAB-

The Pope in Cuba
An indelible impression was left on Cubans by the visit of His Holiness John Paul II,
on January 21 thru 25, 1998. Unforgettable moments of this pastoral trip were
gathered in the CD “The Pope in Cuba”, edited by Genesis Multimedia:


God's Man in Havana

Updated: 8:03 p.m. ET April 1, 2005

From the issue dated Jan. 19, 1998 - Near the end of the millennium, in the heat of Havana, two aging ideological adversaries meet.  One is a canny, mystical man of God and fervent anti-communist; the other is the last romantic revolutionary to head a Marxist state.  The military is everywhere and edgy.  The people, many of them wide-eyed laborers just in from the cane fields, are in a restless festival mood.  Pickpockets and prostitutes work the crowd.  Suddenly, a flag featuring the image of the Virgin is unfurled in the Plaza de la Revolucion, Havana's largest open space.  And then . . . No, this is not a scene from a Graham Greene novel.  But were he alive, the novelist would undoubtedly be in Cuba next week, when Pope John Paul II begins his long-anticipated visit to Fidel Castro's Cuba.

As it is, 3,000 journalists from around the world are expected to descend on the island nation to record the historic event.  What do they hope to see?  After all, Cuba isn't China, and Castro is no longer a threat to anyone except, perhaps, his own destitute people.  And the pope is not the vigorous presence he used to be.  The two have met once before, when Castro visited the pope at the Vatican in 1996.  What can either man now gain from the other?  What meaning is there in this meeting between septuagenarians on the far Caribbean shoal of international politics?

Just this: we are watching two of the last actors in a dying century's deadliest drama, the battle between God and militant, state-sponsored atheistic humanism.  Marx thought the forces of history would overturn God and bring heaven to earth in communism's classless society.  But Marx is gone and communism stands betrayed by history itself.  At the end of the millennium, God endures, capitalism prevails and, in the person of John Paul II, the party of human solidarity now wears a craggy Christian face.

Both men are revolutionaries, though of a different stripe.  Castro's revolution was won with rifles, in 1959.  The Polish pope initiated a revolution of ideas and hope—with no shots fired.  His first visit to Poland, just months after his election to the papacy in 1978, rallied a subject nation and helped set in motion a democratic wave that eventually brought down the Berlin wall in 1989 and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union.  Once again, the pope finds himself in an economically depleted communist country.  Could it happen again?

Not likely.  Cuba isn't Catholic Poland and the visiting pope is not a Cuban returning to his people.  Castro is not—as Wojciech Jaruzelski was—a hated general propped up by Moscow.  Where is the pope's army?  Although 40 percent of Cuba's 11 million people are baptized Roman Catholics (another million, mostly evangelicals, are Protestant), only a minority know even the rudiments of their faith.  How could they?  The church has only about 260 priests and Cubans with any ambition dare not let the government's neighborhood watchdogs see them entering a church.  Castro put all private schools under government control in 1961 and, although he has relaxed some restrictions in the past seven years, he still forbids religious processions in the streets.  Only after papal prodding did he permit the open celebration of Christmas last year.  Indeed, on the eve of the papal visit, the question most often asked by Cubans is "Who is the pope?"

After 36 years of official state atheism, most Cubans have never seen, heard or read about John Paul II—or any of his predecessors.  A video prepared by the Cuban church suggests just how ignorant most Catholics are about their own religion.  The pope, it explains, is the leader of the Catholic Church.  He travels around the world preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ and has particular concern for the poor.  This pope was born in Poland but now he lives in the Vatican, which is inside Rome, in Italy.  Pretty basic stuff, but for the last three months Cuba's state-controlled television has refused to broadcast it.  "We wanted to show that [the pope] is not just one more head of state," says Gustavo Andujar, a lay Catholic who coproduced the film, "but that he is the spiritual leader of 1 billion Catholics around the world."

The Vatican insists that the pope's mission is pastoral, not political.  But in Cuba the real spiritual leader—indeed the reigning deity—is the Virgin of Charity, the nation's patron saint.  Every Catholic sanctuary, and probably every Cuban home, contains a replica of the Virgin, whom the church identifies with the Mother of Jesus.  The pope, whose devotion to Mary has no equal, will crown her statue in El Cobre in what may well turn out to be the most emotionally charged moment of his five-day sweep across the island.  There he is expected to proclaim Our Lady's sovereignty over Cuba—just as he rallied Catholic Poland to "the Queen of Poland" at the shrine of the Black Madonna in 1979.  But Our Lady of Charity is also a major goddess of Santeria—"The Way of the Saints"—an African religion imported by slaves and the faith to which 60 percent of Cubans (including millions of Catholics) give their primary religious allegiance.  In short, the pope may find himself in the odd position of extolling a syncretistic figure of Afro-Cuban religion to a nation that barely recognizes the figure of Jesus Christ.

John Paul will have ample opportunities to evangelize the Cubans.  In addition to a private meeting with Castro he will address an audience of intellectuals at the University of Havana.  Castro is permitting four outdoor papal masses and will make half of the island's buses, trucks and other forms of transportation available to move the faithful.  But it is still unclear whether the government will allow the papal festivities to be televised live.  The risk to Castro is plain: the Cubans may not know much about the papacy, but they are religious enough to be energized by the mystique of John Paul II.  On such a stage, this pope is always in his element—the singer of a new song.

What will he say?  Certainly he will address the decay in Cuban family values.  There are four divorces for every six marriages, and the state's marriage tax only adds incentive to the widespread practice of common-law cohabitation.  The abortion rate is high—60 for every 100 births and 26 for every 1,000 women between the ages of 12 and 19.  Some women have four or more abortions before giving birth to their first child.  This pope is given to moralizing—that's his job.  But in Cuba he is not confronting the usual lifestyle liberals.  It's tough to start and sustain a family in an economy that cannot feed its own people or trade with its wealthy Yankee neighbor.  How to advance the Christian vision of sex and marriage in this environment will be one of the pope's more difficult challenges.

John Paul is also expected to denounce the U.S. embargo on Cuba.  This alone may be worth the price of the pope's admission for Castro.  Castro's strategy, especially after the loss of subsidies from the former Soviet Union, has been to isolate the United States from Europe over the embargo issue.  The pope has long opposed economic embargoes because of their effects on civilian populations, but he and Castro have more than this issue in common.  Both share the view that unregulated capitalism is the enemy of human solidarity, and that every economic system must be measured by the demands of social justice.  Here again, the pope must measure his words in speaking to one of the last Marxist heads of state.

What the pope wants most, however, is breathing room for the Cuban church.  Access to media is one issue, the right to hold outdoor religious processions, a ritual dear to all Latin Americans, is another.  Above all, he wants Castro to admit more foreign priests and nuns, and down the road, perhaps, the return of Catholic schools, where Castro himself was educated.  But if his speeches in Poland are any measure, the pope will call for something more comprehensive: the resurrection of a true civil society in Cuba, one in which the people, through unions, churches and other organizations, can exercise their liberties and make social solidarity—there's that word again—a reality.

Will Castro listen?  During his previous visit with the pope at the Vatican, Castro expounded his beliefs at length.  When he invited the pope to comment, John Paul urged the loquacious Marxist to go on, as if he were hearing confession.  Since then, Castro has been prodding Vatican diplomats to tell him what this pope is really like inside, what makes him the man he is.  Next week he will find out.  It's the confessor's turn to speak.




Foto: AP


(CubaNews translation by Ana Portela)

Republic of Cuba Council of State Presidency

I, FIDEL CASTRO RUZ, President of the Council of State of the Republic of Cuba

LET IT BE KNOWN: That the Council of State of the Republic of Cuba, in use of the its attributions has agreed to decree the following DECREE

INASMUCH AS: We have learned of the demise of KAROL JOSEF WOJTYLA, HIS HOLINESS POPE JOHN PAUL II, the evening of Saturday, 2 April 2004, Rome time, officially announced by the Vatican.

INASMUCH AS: Cuba and the Holy See maintain uninterrupted diplomatic relations since 1935, based on the principle of mutual respect.

INASMUCH AS: Pope John Paul II is a world acclaimed personality in his more than 26 years in the Papacy, has been a tireless fighter in favor of peace, was well known for his activity in favor of a solution of many social evils affecting Humanity, criticized neoliberalism and was against war.

INASMUCH AS: His Holiness made a historical pastoral visit to our country from January 21 to 26, 1998 in which he was received by our people and government with respect and affection and condemned “the restrictive economic measures imposed from abroad as unjust and ethically unacceptable”, words he repeated on several occasions.

ACCORDINGLY: The Council of State of the Republic of Cuba


FIRST: Decree three days of Official Mounting on the death of Pope John Paul II.

SECOND: Order that the National Flag fly at half mast in the public buildings and military institutions on the days three, four and five of April, 2005.

THIRD: The Ministers of Foreign Relations and Revolutionary Armed Forces are in charge of seeing to the compliance of this decree.

GIVEN in the Revolution Palace, city of Havana on the 2 day of the month of April, 2005, “Year of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas”.

President of the Council of State

Pope John Paul II's Biography

Rome, Apr 4 (Prensa Latina) Pope Jonh Paul II was born as Karol Jozef Wojtyla in May 18, 1920, in the small town of Wadowice, south of Krakow.

Friends in Wadowice, a town of 8,000 Catholics and 2,000 Jews 35 miles southwest of Krakow, called Wojtyla "Lolek". He was the second son of Karol Wojtyla, Sr., a retired army officer and tailor, and Emilia Kaczorowska Wojtyla, a schoolteacher of Lithuanian descent.

The Wojtylas were strict Catholics, but did not share the anti-Semitic views of many Poles. One of Lolek´s playmates was Jerzy Kluger, a Jew who many years later would play a key role as a go-between for John Paul II and Israeli officials when the Vatican extended long-overdue diplomatic recognition to Israel.

He lost his mother, Emilia, at age nine. Her death was an event that stayed with him, and acquaintances say it prompted his lifelong spiritual devotion to the Virgin Mary. One of his first youthful poems, "Over This, Your White Grave," was dedicated to his mother"s memory.

Three years later his only brother, Edmund, a physician, died of scarlet fever. And at age twenty he lost his father, a military officer who had raised his son with love and firmness.

These sorrows of early family life, along with the hard times that Poland experienced both prior to World War II and throughout it, were bound to give an intelligent young man cause for sober reflection. In 1939, under the Nazi occupation, he enrolled at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, and shortly thereafter he began secret studies for the priesthood. Publicly, however, he worked as a laborer in a quarry and a chemical factory.

In 1942, aware of his call to the priesthood, he began courses in the clandestine seminary of Krakow, run by Cardinal Adam Stefan Sapieha, archbishop of Krakow. At the same time, Karol Wojtyla was one of the pioneers of the "Rhapsodic Theatre," also clandestine.

Wojtyla"s passions in those early years were poetry, religion and the theater. After graduating from secondary school in 1938, he and his father moved to Krakow where he enrolled at Jagiellonian University to study literature and philosophy.

He also joined an experimental theater group and participated in poetry readings and literary discussion groups. Friends say he was an intense and gifted actor, and a fine singer.

After World War II, he continued his studies in the major seminary of Krakow, once it had re-opened, and in the faculty of theology of the Jagiellonian University, until his priestly ordination in Krakow on November 1, 1946. Soon after, Cardinal Sapieha sent him to Rome where he worked under the guidance of the French Dominican, Garrigou-Lagrange, spending much of the next few years studying -- he earned two masters degrees and a doctorate.

He finished his doctorate in theology in 1948, with a thesis on the topic of faith in the works of St. John of the Cross. At that time, during his vacations, he exercised his pastoral ministry among the Polish immigrants of France, Belgium and Holland, until he took up priestly duties as an assistant pastor in Krakow, in 1949.

In the early years of his priesthood, Wojtyla served as a chaplain to university students at St. Florian"s Church in Krakow. The church was conveniently located next to Jagiellonian University, where he was working on a second doctorate in philosophy.

When the university"s theology department was abolished in 1954, by the government, the entire faculty reconstituted itself at the Seminary of Krakow and Wojtyla continued his studies there.

He was also hired that same year by the Catholic University of Lublin -- the only Catholic university in the communist world -- as a non-tenured professor. The arrangement turned Wojtyla into a commuter, shuttling between Lublin and Krakow on the overnight train to teach and counsel in one city and study in the other.

He also founded and ran a service that dealt with marital problems, from family planning and illegitimacy to alcoholism and physical abuse. Time magazine called it "perhaps the most successful marriage institute in Christianity."

In 1956, Wojtyla was appointed to the Chair of Ethics at Catholic University and his ascent through the church hierarchy got a boost in 1958 when he was named the auxiliary bishop of Krakow.

When the Vatican Council II began the deliberations in 1962 that would revolutionize the church, Wojtyla was one of its intellectual leaders and took special interest in religious freedom. The same year, he was named the acting archbishop of Krakow when the incumbent died.

In spite of all his activities, Wojtyla did not slight his scholarly duties.

He wrote a treatise in 1960 called "Love and Responsibility" that laid out the foundation for what Weigel calls "a modern Catholic sexual ethic."

In 1969, the Polish Theological Society published Wojtyla´s "The Acting Person," a dense philosophical tract on phenomenology that Wojtyla discussed during a U.S. visit in 1978.

In 1977, Wojtyla gave a talk at a university in Milan called "The Problem of Creating Culture through Human Praxis."

Although he had established himself as a formidable intellectual presence -- as well as an able administrator and fund-raiser -- few suspected that the Sacred College of Cardinals would choose Wojtyla as the next pope after the death of John Paul I in September of 1978.

But when the cardinals were unable to agree on a candidate after seven rounds of balloting, Wojtyla was chosen on the eighth round late in the afternoon of October 16.

Wojtyla chose the same name as his predecessor -- whose reign lasted just 34 days before he died of a heart attack -- and added another Roman numeral in becoming the first Slavic pope. He was also the first non-Italian pope in 455 years (the last was Adrian VI in 1523) and, at 58, the youngest pope in 132 years.

He is not only the most traveled pope in history -- he speaks eight languages, learning Spanish after he became the pope -- he also has been quick to use the media and technology to his advantage.

In the early years of his papacy, he steered the Vatican into satellite transmissions and producing video cassettes. While other popes stayed close to Rome, remote and seemingly unapproachable, John Paul´s wide-ranging appearances -- enhanced by an actor´s sense of theater -- became worldwide news events.

When a Turk named Mehmet Ali Agca shot the pope twice in an assassination attempt in 1981, Agca first told the authorities that he was acting for the Bulgarian intelligence service, but he later recanted that part of his confession.

It did not matter to the pope who was responsible, and later he visited Agca in his cell and forgave him.

During his first triumphal visit to the United States, he warned his hosts about the dangers of materialism, selfishness and secularism, and suggested lowering the standard of living and sharing the wealth with the Third World.

The message did not play well, and still does not. But that has not stopped the pope from insisting that materialism is not the answer.

The Catholic church John Paul II inherited in 1978 was in shambles. Reforms begun by the Vatican Council II shook the church to its foundation, and the tumult within the church could be compared to the turmoil in the outer world during the 1960s" era of peace, love and protests over the war in Vietnam.

It is said the church was through a serious crisis when it lost one-third of its priests and a great number of nuns.

John Paul II embarked on nothing less than a restoration of the church, one grounded in its conservative tradition.

Although the church has expanded in Africa and Latin America -- the latter accounts for about half of the estimated one billion Catholics -- it has lost followers in the industrialized world, including Poland.

His inflexibility on issues with international ramifications -- birth control in Africa, for example -- has drawn strong criticism.

However, it is doubtful there has ever been a pope who has so successfully translated his strength, determination and faith into such widespread respect and goodwill. In a world of shifting trends and leaders of questionable virtue, John Paul II has been a towering figure at the moral center of modern life, analysts agree.


The Legacy of Pope John Paul II

Washington, Apr 6 (Prensa Latina) Respected and criticized, John Paul's 26-year leadership of the Roman Catholic Church was the third longest in history and he was the first non-Italian pope in over 400 years. During his papacy, he visited a record 120 nations and was seen in person by millions.

His death now brought the progressive radio program Democracy Now!, broadcast Tuesday conducted by Amy Goodman, to deal on the legacy of Karol Joseph Wojtyla as Pope of the Roman Catholic Church.

With the participation of Angela Bonavoglia, award-winning journalist who covers social, health, religious and women´s issues, Mary Segers, a professor of political science at Rutgers University and expert on American Catholicism and the relationship between religion and politics in the United States and Blase Bonpane, director of the Office of the Americas, who was a Catholic priest in Guatemala during the 1960´s, where he was expelled for his efforts on behalf of the poor and disenfranchised contributed their testimony to this program.

The Church, said Mary Segers, may have been in disarray when he became Pope and through force of his personality and travels, he's made many people who are not Catholic aware of his view of the message of Jesus Christ.

So what I sensed yesterday -- the churches were full here in the United States -- Catholics themselves finally got a renewed sense of the appreciation of this religious tradition. Too many times in the past the Catholic Church has been kind of dismissed or trivialized, at least in popular culture as a church that has sort of warped views on sexuality. Well, there's a lot more obviously, and I think John Paul II illustrated that.

On what can be expected in the future and who could succeed this Pope, professor Segers recalled the College of Cardinals today is very different from what it was in 1978. There are many more bishops now from Latin America and Africa and Asia. There are even fewer Italian cardinals proportionately. And so it's quite possible that we could have another non-Italian cardinal.

I think that you could see a possible candidate emerging from the Brazilian bishops or some of the other Latin American countries. There's a whole series of names put forward, of course, and there are Europeans, the Archbishop of Vienna Christoph Schoenborn, Godfried Daneels who is the Archbishop of Brussels, and Walter Kasper, who is a German cardinal, said Mary Segers, who added it is doubtful that any cardinal from the US be named at the moment.

I think because America is the superpower that it is, and it probably would be looked at in a global sense as kind of, well, why did you choose an American, they already govern the world in a sense, and why do you want them also to hold the highest position in the Catholic Church, concluded Segers.

About the stand of John Paul II concerning women, Angela Bonavoglia said it is a mixed legacy, because although he was definitely outspoken on discrimination against women and appointed them to high posts inside the Church for the first time, as two women to the Vatican Theological Commission and another as head of a pontifical academy, he basically saw women as nurturing, with qualities of humility, listening, waiting, so it was a notion of women in a passive kind of a capacity.

John Paul II was also opposed to women priests. He was a deeply-committed traditionalist, said Bonavoglia. In fact, the Vatican's own scriptural commission back in the 1970s studied the Bible to look for an absolute bar against women priests and concluded that it didn't exist in the Bible.

The issue on abortion is a much harder one. Historically, the Catholic Church's position has shifted. It was always a sin. It wasn't always murder. The groups like Catholics for Free Choice and a lot of Catholic women ethicists talk about 'primary of conscience' as being the basis for a woman's making what is a very difficult decision, and that this can be done in good conscience.

And I think the rigidity of [the Church's] position on abortion has to be looked at and contrasted in a way to its failure to take such a rigid position on anything else, on any of the other life issues. The Church is against capital punishment. It is against war except under very specific circumstances, recalled Bonavoglia.

But it has never said anybody who supports those things cannot come to communion, must be turned away at the altar, but it has taken that position with abortion. And on a purely political level, I think we have to ask why. It's a very patriarchal position and argument, as it has also been lacking concerning sex abuse by priests.

Blase Bonpane, on his part, said the low point of the Pope as head of the Church was his response to the death of Archbishop Romero and that was a result of very poor advice from Cardinal Casariego of Guatemala, who was the only cardinal in Central America at the time and a great supporter of the Guatemalan military and of militarism in general.

Another very serious error occurred when in March of 1983 he shook his finger at Ernesto Cardinal at a time when he was visiting Nicaragua and 20 youths had just been killed in the Contra war, and the mothers of those youth were present and they were holding pictures of their sons, and the pope actually told them to shut up.

He said, "silencio," and then he shook his finger at Ernesto, and I think he misunderstood completely what was taking place in Central America at the time. So that's a sorry part of the situation, said Bonpane.

The opposition to war of John Paul was absolutely outstanding, he explained, and I think it is quite tragic that the bishops of the United States did not pick up the cudgel after he made it clear his great opposition to war and to war in Iraq.

The US bishops took a very weak response, I believe, by not bringing that issue to each and every parish in the United States, almost giving one the feeling that they had a greater dedication to US foreign policy than they did to their own church.

This, I think, is quite scandalous, and it's been a history of scandal. The pro-war position of the leaders of the U.S. Church, like the famous Cardinal Spellman in the matter of Vietnam. So his position on war was excellent.

The pope´s stand on capitalism, said Blase Bonpane, is extremely interesting.

When it came time for the first conference that he attended in Puebla in Mexico -- I was there, and Archbishop Romero was present -- this was 1979. The condemnation at Puebla was of unrestrained capital.

He was very much against the deregulation. He was very much against what is called neoliberalism today, the 19th century laissez-faire capitalism that showed only regard for profit and no regard for the common good. So to the surprise of everyone at that conference, the only thing condemned in the conference was unrestrained capital, and Marxist analysis was kept as a methodology that was fully acceptable.

He was not talking about people becoming Marxist, as such, but the use of Marxist analysis, that is, to recognize class warfare, to recognize the lack of distributive justice in society, was completely acceptable. So these things were on the positive side.

And it was curious that prior to the conference in Puebla, the newspapers were coming out saying Pope John Paul II condemns liberation theology. It just didn't happen. It was that the capitalist world was so afraid of what liberation theology implied that they wanted to condemn it in the press before the Pope even made a statement on it.

So that part was of great interest to all of us, and liberation theology is simply a response to imperial theology, which has been with us since 312 A.D., since the time of Constantine, the emperor becoming a Christian.

He brought the sword into Christianity and conversion by way of the sword, and that was ultimately seen in the Crusades, in the Inquisition, in the conquistadores. And these are all things for which Pope John Paul II apologized. He was horrified by Church history, and that included the Holocaust.

I don't know of any pope that had apologized for the history of the Church prior to him. So he was an extremely complex man. And there are many, many facets to this person, some that we're sorry about and many that we find quite unusual.

Contradictory situations discussed at the program were John Paul´s position regarding Rev. Leonardo Boff of Brazil, a movement leader, silenced by Rome for a year. In 1992 he resigned from the priesthood to protest Vatican restrictions on writings by the clergy and members of religious orders.

Another champion of liberation theology, the Rev. Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the first democratically-elected president of Haiti denounced the Vatican in 1992 for recognizing military leaders who had deposed him in 1991. Since 1982 when he became a priest, Father Aristide had excoriated the Haitian Church for what he called its "complicity with brutal dictatorships."

The Vatican was opposed to others in the clergy that went into politics: Miguel D'Escoto, Ernesto Cardinal, and others. I think this was a grave error, said Bonpane.

These men were in a position of representing the people, the hopes, desires and anxieties. They were fulfilling what Vatican II said we should be doing, and I think Vatican II, that is between 1962 and 1965, was a great threat to Pope John Paul II.

He felt that the matter of hierarchy was being destroyed and that the base communities were being given too much power, so he reacted to the Vatican II, which had really ignited a fire in all of us, because we were told not to wait for orders from Rome. We were told to enter into these hopes, desires and anxieties to the ultimate consequences.

That led Jean-Bertrand Aristide into saying, "Alright, I'll be president, if necessary." It led Ernesto Cardinal to say, "Alright, I'll be minister of culture." It led Miguel D'Escoto to say "Alright, I'll be foreign minister."

We have got to work on behalf of these people, who are suffering, who are hungry, who are in misery, and they need to be liberated. So I think this is another example of many of the sins of the Church, said Bonpane.

The man behind this -- as you know, the Pope was traveling to 120 countries -- but the man responsible for enforcement was the Cardinal Ratzinger who is an extreme reactionary and who removed the license to teach from many priests, and some of them had to go forward on their own because they could not simply sit in silence and watch the faithful deteriorate spiritually and materially.

In the opinion of Bonpane, these changes are to continue, and what is called liberation theology will simply be called theology. I think it's a matter of removing the imperial trappings that had nothing to do with the teaching of Jesus, imperial trappings that have come into the church as a result of the Roman imperial power. And we'll see something much more pure, much more primitive, much less sectarian.


Messages exchanged between
Pope John Paul II and Fidel Castro

For Pope John Paul II

Your Holiness:

I wish to send you my warmest greetings and express my gratitude for your friendly words given to me by Mother Tekla and your beautiful gift.

I was very pleased to see how you have recovered your health and with so much energy while keeping your spirit of work and struggle alive.

Our disturbed and tormented world needs, more than ever, your work towards peace, justice and solidarity among the human beings and the peoples.

I increasingly admire your forbearance and iron will in the performance of your noble and humanitarian task.

I wish you long health to allow you to preach in favor of the poor and the destitute of humanity. You will be accompanied by a growing number of persons who have the same sentiments and hopes.

Receive my congratulations for the magnificent group of excellent persons of the Catholic Church that I have had the privilege to meet after your appreciated visit to our country and I beg you excuse these short and informal words before bidding farewell to Mother Tekla and those who accompany her.

She will tell you of the intense efforts made for the forthcoming inauguration of the Order of Saint Brigid in Cuba. It will be an excellent step in the development of our relations that your visit to Cuba gave an unforgettable and strong impulse.

I hope that in the midst of your tireless battling I will have the opportunity of greeting you again.

I wish you success in your fight for peace and the globalization of solidarity. The every day events demonstrate the urgency to achieve these imperative objectives.

Fidel Castro Ruz

Nov. 10, 2002

To Dr. Fidel Castro Ruz

President of the Council of State and the Government of the Republic of Cuba.

Mister Presidente:

I have received your kind letter of the tenth of this month and thank you very much for the sentiments that you have shown to my person and my pastoral ministry in the Church and with the talks with men and women of good will.

I was very pleased by your spontaneous and warm words that express your satisfaction for having met so many people of the Catholic Church after the intense days of my pastoral visit to Cuba in 1998 that I remember so vividly and that permitted me, also, to know the Cubans better, receive your hospitality and witness their rich values leaving them with an evangelical message of hope.

I am aware of the details regarding the founding of the Order of the Holy Savior and Saint Brigid in Cuba. You will recall, other religious Institutes and congregations, men and women, also want to serve the noble Cuban people through the teachings of the Gospel and we hope the moment for this to come to be is not far off, counting on your understanding and the benevolence of Your Excellency.

I ask God to bless that beloved people, so rich in culture and traditions and with such a deep Christian plurality so that they always walk along the path of real freedom, of material and spiritual progress, of solidarity and justice, to enjoy well being according to their inalienable dignity.

I take this opportunity to renew, Mister Presidents, the feeling of my highest and distinguished esteem.

Vatican, November 22. 2002.

(signed) Joannes Paulus II

To Your Excellency, Mr. Fidel Castro Ruz

President of the Council of State and Government of the Republic of Cuba.

On the occasion last month of January of the V anniversary of my unforgettable visit to Cuba that marked me deeply and remembering the emotion of those intense days that allowed me to know the people closely, I send Your Excellency, by the hand of the Cardinal Crescencio Sepe, Prefect of the Congregation for Evangelization of the Peoples, my warm and cordial greeting and I renew my vows of affection and closeness to all Cubans.

I received many attentions from Your Excellency, other officials and so many Cubans that, once again, I want to renew my gratitude and pray to God so for that Nation to always follow the true paths of reconciliation and peace, spiritual and material development, justice, freedom and solidarity working towards a common goal that is the true welfare of the Nation and its inhabitants.

In the meantime I call for all Cubans, through prayers to the Virgen de la Caridad de El Cobre, loving Mother of that noble people, to receive many divine blessings to help them in their lives and I express to you, Mister President, my highest and distinguished esteem.

Vatican, March 1, 2003

(signed) Joannes Paulus II