Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, seen here holding hands with Pope Francis at Castro's residence in Havana last year, has died aged 90.
In 1962 I was fourteen years of age, the year Castro was excommunicated and in October of that same year the world waited with baited breath for the two weeks of the Cuban crisis as Kennedy and Khrushchev confronted each other. I remember the fear we all had of a nuclear war. Now ‘fast forward ’ to last week when the Pope, who met with the leader of Cuba's Communist revolution in September, expressed his sorrow at the news in a telegram to the current president Raul Castro, Fidel Castro's younger brother. Jesuit-educated, Fidel Castro was brought up in a strongly Catholic family, with his mother and sister being particularly devout.
"I offer prayers to the Lord for his rest and I trust the whole Cuban people to the maternal intercession of Our Lady patroness of this country," he said .
Last year the Vatican acted as a go-between and so helped to broker an historic deal to normalise relations between the US and Cuba, bringing to an end decades of Cold War. After an audience in May , Raul Castro said that he read all of Pope Francis' speeches: "If the Pope continues this way, I will go back to praying and to the Church- and I'm not joking!," he said. In response to the pope’s appeal for mercy he released over 800 prisoners last week .
President–elect trump has promised to continue the healing process.
Words of Wisdom
Do you know how to wipe out your enemy?
Make him your friend. [Abraham Lincoln]
The first I knew that Pope Francis had officially accepted Enda Kenny’s invitation was when Radio Foyle phoned me at noon on Monday asking me for a comment later in the Mark Patterson show. There I said I hoped he would visit the North, preferably Derry but we may have to settle with Armagh, traditionally the faith- centre of the country going back to St. Patrick. I said I hoped that the loyalist community here would show the same generosity of spirit as the nationalists did in the South when they welcomed the Queen by extending a warm hand of friendship. I said I hoped the Pope would bring healing and hope to those who have lost faith in the Church over the past few decades and walked away.
I have fond memories of the last papal visit when Pope John Paul came in 1979. I had just been ordained six years and was a concelebrant at his Mass in Galway racetrack. The whole country was ecstatic. Those warm and glorious days are long past and we have gone through that cold and painful winter of sin and crime caused by some sick priests and the following cover up by the bishops.
He helped Cuba and the USA be friends as I have already explained. Would it be too much to expect that Pope Francis’ visit might mark the beginning of a new springtime for our divided community and our Church?
I didn’t think my homilies were all that long but I saw a man leave church last week when I was still speaking. Later I asked him if he felt ill. ‘I went for a hair cut’ he replied. ‘Why didn’t you do that before Mass’ I said. ‘Because ‘I didn’t need one then’’ he responded!’