Christ, Karl Marx and Che: Fidel Castro offers the pope his religious views

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Pope Francis meets with former Cuban President Fidel Castro in Havana, Cuba, on September 20, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Alex Castro-Castro Family/Handout via Reuters 
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-POPE-FIDEL, originally transmitted on September 21, 2015.

Pope Francis meets with former Cuban President Fidel Castro in Havana, Cuba, on September 20, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Alex Castro-Castro Family/Handout via Reuters *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-POPE-FIDEL, originally transmitted on September 21, 2015.

Pope Francis meets with former Cuban President Fidel Castro in Havana, Cuba, on September 20, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Alex Castro-Castro Family/Handout via Reuters  *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-POPE-FIDEL, originally transmitted on September 21, 2015.

Pope Francis meets with former Cuban President Fidel Castro in Havana, Cuba, on September 20, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Alex Castro-Castro Family/Handout via Reuters
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-POPE-FIDEL, originally transmitted on September 21, 2015.

Pope Francis met with aging revolutionary Communist Fidel Castro on Sunday (Sep. 20) in Castro’s home, where they chatted “informally” about “protecting the environment and the great problems of the contemporary world,” according to Vatican Radio.

And Castro had a gift for Francis — a copy of “Fidel and Religion” — a book based on 23 hours of interviews between him and Frei Betto, a Brazilian Dominican friar. The focus of the book is Fidel’s views on “two of the most important historic wellsprings of man’s thinking and emotions — Christianity and Marxism.”

How do I know this? I have a 1988 English edition of the 1985 book, purchased years ago in a second hand book shop in Miami.

Castro not only knows his former faith, he has practice chatting with popes, having met both Saint John Paul ll in 1998 and retired Pope Benedict XVI in 2012.

Sadly, it’s been too many years since I read “Fidel and Religion” but even a quick scan turns up interesting nuggets:

  • Betto’s introduction says the book’s viewpoint is “the possibility of a need for deep human understanding among all who honestly struggle for the peoples, no matter what their ideas about God and relIgion may be.” Betto quotes a slogan from the Cuban revolution’s early years that might endear Fidel to Francis: “He who betrays the poor betrays Christ.”
  • Fidel was a restless student at a Mass-every-morning Jesuit high school where the faith offered was “very dogmatic.” In his view, “religious faith, like political belief, should be based on reasoning, on the development of thought and feelings. The two things are inseparable.” Nonetheless, he went on religious retreats and said his regular prayers, if “mechanically.” And the Jesuits “influenced me with their strict organization, their discipline and their values. … They influenced my sense of justice…”

(Lest anyone get a rosy impression, the Wall Street Journal also reminds us that once Castro came to power and established a No-Catholics-allowed Communist Party, he closed down that prestigious school, declared Cuba to be an atheist state, expelled many priests and nuns, sent Cardinal Jaime Ortega to a work camp and canceled Christmas for three decades.)

  • In his book, Fidel sees “great coincidence between Christianity’s objectives and the ones we Communists seek, between the Christian teachings of humility, austerity, selflessness and loving thy neighbor and what we might call the content of a revolutionary’s life and behavior.”

However, he points out later that he never really developed a personal religious faith because he was entirely “devoted to the development of a political faith.”

“Christ didn’t choose the rich to preach the doctrine; he choose 12 poor ignorant workers — that is he chose the proletariat of the times… At times I’ve referred to Christ’s miracles and have said, ‘Well, Christ multiplied the fish and the loaves to feed the people. That is precisely what we want to do with the Revolution and socialism…’ ”

He offers his interpretations of other parables and says the Sermon on the Mount “cannot be given any interpretation other than what you call the option for the poor… I believe Karl Marx could have subscribed  to the Sermon on the Mount.”

Castro’s critique of the historic Catholic Church is that it has been used “as a tool for domination, exploitation and oppression for centuries.” Yet he has kind words for exceptions to this. When U.S. bishops visited in 1985, Castro met with them and praised Christian concepts of sacrifice, austerity and humility.

Said Fidel “I told them that if they organized a state in accord with Christian precepts, they’d create one similar to ours.”

The 353-page book goes year by year through Fidel’s life and his philosophy. But I’ll skip to one last point.

On compatriot in Communist revolution Ernesto (Che) Guevera, whose image loomed over Revolutionary Square where the pope offered Mass on Sunday, Fidel says, “If Che has been a Catholic, if Che had belonged to the Church, he would probably have been made a saint.”

Pope Francis gave Castro several books,  including one by Italian priest Alessandro Pronzato and another by Spanish Jesuit Segundo Llorentea. The Holy Father also gave him a book and two CDs of his homilies, as well as his two encyclical letters, Lumen Fidei and Laudato Si’.

 

  • Greg1

    Yes, we are always looking for that perfect government, where people can live freely, share all, and be given all, but due to our fallen human nature, greed begins to glaze the eyes of the ones in power, and the proletariat always suffers, ending up receiving the scraps, while the dictator, and his household, enjoy living high on the hog. Cuba is a clear example of that. I do believe our earlier, more simple model of government here in the USA, was the one which was well suited wide ranging freedoms, within reason. And states by and large established their own standards; It has since, however, become corrupted by big money, driving political campaigns, and corrupt justices enacting law through judicial activism. Our present government is one of complete corruption; that is why the likes of Donald Trump, et al., are very popular, as they cut to the chase of our problems, and do not worry about offending contributors.

  • Be Brave

    Karl and Che and of course Fidel Castro. . . superstars of the Democratic party. Er, I mean the leftists of the USA.

    No doubt these heroes motivated Obama (and his ilk) to do what he did. Like with the murderer Che, The Left will just “move on” (dot org) to ignore the past horrors of their fellow communists and implement propaganda and Alinsky tactics to bring “change.”

    Ah the death of freedom is the destiny of Leftist politics. What Castro and Soviets couldn’t attain with guns, Obama’s kind will accomplish with a new sales pitch selling the same old totalitarianism.

  • lmontgom

    Castro foes appear to be ignorant of the awful state of pre-Castro Cuba; it was so bad that the parents of Sen. Marco Rubio fled. US companies owned the majority of companies and industries making money, even the utility companies. Americans ran the mob that controlled vice and entertainment. Take a look at this timetable if you think Cubans were “free” http://www.historyofcuba.com/history/time/timetbl3.htm
    A continuation link at the end of the page takes readers to the next timetable.
    I believe what Walter Lippmann wrote after the Castros took over is true and had the US more carefully handled its disappointment at losing control of its client state, Cuban history from 1959 forward would have been quite different — and the native language in Miami would still be English: July. American journalist Walter Lippmann writes: “For the thing we should never do in dealing with revolutionary countries, in which the world abounds, is to push them behind an iron curtain raised by…

  • dale

    “. I do believe our earlier, more simple model of government here in the USA, was the one which was well suited wide ranging freedoms, within reason. – ”

    That earlier government excluded all but 1%: women, blacks, native Americans, and those without property (ie 99%) could not vote or run for office. In fact, Washington won the presidency with 43,000 votes, 1% of the population.

    “Wide-ranging freedoms, within reason” excluded the 99%. Blacks were slaves; woman could not vote; those without property were excluded from political liberty.

    The myth of a simple government is belied by the fact that it was created by slave owners, who had NOT respect for the freedom of blacks. 95% of the Founding Fathers were slave owners. The original Constitution recognized slavery. There was no simple government based on freedom, except for the 1%, either slave owners or wealthy merchants and corporations, excluding 99% of the people.

    Until we face the truth, we will never be…

  • dale

    This exactly what Hitler said when he blamed the leftists for all the evils that befell Germany and explains why among the first imprisoned in the death camps were liberals, social democrats, and Marxists (whose works were banned).

    “First, they came for the socialist, but I was not a socialist…so I said nothing.”

    I recommend you read Mein Kampf for an education on how to demonize the left. It worked for Hitler, Mussolini, and all fascists since. Own your heritage: own your fascism. Man up!

  • Eric Charles Smith

    Don’t confuse the right wing nut cases out there with historical fact. They don’t pay attention to much that doesn’t confirm their delusional perception of the world anyway.

  • Larry

    Lets be brutally honest here.

    Outside of the works of the late Bishop Romero in El Salvador and the marginalized/excommunicated proponents of Liberation Theology, the Catholic Church has always stood behind brutal reactionary dictators in Latin America. They supported the people who turned “disappeared” into a verb and brought the term “death squads” to the public lexicon. They can’t make any kind of claim of moral high ground with Castro.

    While Castro is far from excusable in his repression of the nation, one can see how he can view the church as an enemy.