By Philip Pullella, Reuters March 23, 2012 2:33 PM
ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE — Pope Benedict said on Friday communism no
longer works in Cuba and that the Roman Catholic Church was ready to
help the island find new ways of moving forward without "trauma."
Speaking on the plane taking him from Rome for a trip to Mexico and
Cuba, the pope told reporters: "Today it is evident that Marxist
ideology in the way it was conceived no longer corresponds to reality."
Responding to a question about his visit to the island, a communist
bastion 145 km off the coast of the United States for more than 50
years, Benedict added: "In this way we can no longer respond and build a
society. New models must be found with patience and in a constructive way."
Benedict offered the help of the Church in achieving a peaceful
transition on the island saying the process required patience but also
"We want to help in a spirit of dialogue to avoid traumas and to help
move forward a society which is fraternal and just, which is what we
desire for the whole world," the pope added.
His comments drew a cautious response from Cuba's government.
"We will listen with all respect to his Holiness," said Cuban Foreign
Minister Bruno Rodriguez, speaking at a press conference in Havana
shortly after the Pope's comments.
"We respect all opinions. We consider useful the exchange of ideas," he
added, noting however that "our people have deep convictions developed
over our country's long history."
The word "trauma" has been used previously by members of the Roman
Catholic Church to refer to what may happen in Cuba, particularly after
the death of ailing revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, 85, who handed
over power to his brother Raul in 2008.
Benedict said the historic 1998 visit to Cuba of his predecessor, Pope
John Paul "opened up a path of collaboration and constructive dialogue,
a road that is long and calls for patience but moves forward."
John Paul's visit accelerated a process of reconciliation between the
Church and Cuba's communist rulers who were at odds for many years
following the 1959 Cuban revolution.
The Cuban Church and government are still in dispute over issues such as
Church use of the media and religious education.
Asked about whether he should defend human rights in Cuba, the pope
replied: "It is obvious that the Church is always on the side of
freedom, on the side of freedom of conscience, of freedom of religion,
and we contribute in this sense."
On Monday, Cuba released 70 members of the dissident Ladies in White
group detained during the weekend but warned them not to attend
activities related to the pope visit.
The women, known in Spanish as the "Damas de Blanco," were freed without
charges after being arrested in three separate incidents on Saturday and
Sunday when they attempted to march in Havana.
There are no meetings with Cuban dissidents on the pope's program.
Last week the Vatican re-stated its condemnation of the U.S. trade
embargo against Cuba, calling it useless and something that hurts
The embargo, which marked its 50th anniversary last month and which
Cubans call "the blockade," is still the cornerstone of U.S. policy
toward the Caribbean island 145 km from Florida, although it has failed
to meet its primary objective of undermining Castro's communist government.
Washington imposed the near-total trade embargo at the height of the
Cold War to punish Havana for its support of the Soviet Union and in the
hope it would bring an end to communism.
One unanswered question about the trip is whether Benedict will meet
Fidel Castro, who ruled Cuba for 49 years before his younger brother
Raul succeeded him in 2008.
The Vatican has said the pope will be "available" if the elder, ailing
Fidel Castro wants to meets him.