Pope Francis in Cuba: ‘We do not serve ideas. We serve people’

Pope Francis waves upon arriving to give the first mass of his visit to Cuba in Havana's Revolution Square, September 20, 2015. Photo courtesy of Reuters
Pope Francis waves upon arriving to give the first mass of his visit to Cuba in Havana's Revolution Square, September 20, 2015. Photo courtesy of Reuters

Pope Francis waves upon arriving to give the first mass of his visit to Cuba in Havana’s Revolution Square, September 20, 2015. Photo courtesy of Reuters

HAVANA (Reuters) – Pope Francis celebrated Mass in Havana’s Revolution Square on Sunday, offering both spiritual and political messages for the tens of thousands who packed the plaza, the symbolic heart of the Cuban revolution.

He warned of the dangers of power and ideology when others are excluded. At the same time, Cuban police kept some dissidents from attending and pounced on others apparently attempting to hand out flyers near the Mass.

The huge plaza is the site of government and Communist Party headquarters and where Cubans celebrate May Day beneath massive portraits of revolutionary leaders Ernesto “Che” Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos built into the facades of state buildings.

To welcome the pope, who helped bring about the recent rapprochement between Cuba and the United States, a similarly giant poster of Jesus Christ was hung nearby.

Some pilgrims waited for hours in the tropical heat, eager to hear the first Latin American pope speak to them in Spanish, their common language.

“Francis has come to bless this new union between Cuba and the United States,” said Enrique Mesa, a 32-year-old tourism worker.

READ: Pope exhorts US and Cuba to push detente further

While Cuba’s government basks in the glow of the pope’s four-day visit, he may use the stage to criticize the Communist leaders on democracy and human rights.

“Service is never ideological, for we do not serve ideas, we serve people,” the pope said in his homily. “Do not neglect them (others) for plans which can be seductive, but are unconcerned about the face of the person beside you.”

Between 30-40 dissidents were detained to stop them attending papal events, a dissident human rights group said.

Security agents wrestled two men and a woman to the ground at the edge of Revolution Square, then led them off, after they started shouting and tried to hand out flyers, a Reuters witness said.

The pope’s homily carried messages that both committed Communists and the government’s most strident critics could claim as their own.

“All of us are called by virtue of our Christian vocation to that service which truly serves, and to help one another not to be tempted by a ‘service’ which is really ‘self-serving,'” the pope said.

READ: Conservatives outraged at gays on White House guest list for Pope Francis! (Vatican, not so much) 

The government’s opponents may feel the pope was talking about Fidel and Raul Castro, the brothers who have been Cuba’s dominant figures since the 1959 revolution while their defenders could point to another passage as praise for a revolution that has provided Cubans with free health care and education.

“Who is the most important? Jesus is straightforward in his reply: ‘Whoever wishes to be the first among you must be the last of all, and the servant of all,'” Francis said.

Francisco was expected to visit retired leader Fidel Castro, 89, later on Sunday.

Arriving on Saturday, Francis exhorted Cuba and the United States to deepen their detente, and encouraged Cuba to grant more freedom to the Roman Catholic Church, which has re-emerged as a powerful force after suffering decades of repression.

“His visit is cause for hope in our aspirations for improvement,” said biologist Benito Espinoza, 41, at Revolution Square. “We are an optimistic people, but we have suffered for many years.”

Francis waved and greeted Cubans as he arrived at the Mass, delighting one family when he picked up and kissed a four-year-old girl Karen Correoso.

“It’s a historic moment for her and for us. He blessed her,” said the girl’s aunt, Maria Teresa Gonzalez, 64, from a church in Matanzas city.

Many Cubans appreciate the pope for his role in the secret talks that led to last December’s breakthrough with Washington, when Cuban President Raul Castro and U.S. President Barack Obama vowed to normalize relations and end more than half a century of Cold War-era animosity.

Francis will fly from Cuba to Washington on Tuesday for meetings with Obama and addresses at the U.S. Congress and United Nations.

Cuba will welcome any papal condemnation of the U.S. economic embargo, which persists despite Obama’s policy change as only the U.S. Congress can lift it. The Republican leadership in Congress has defied Obama’s calls to do so.

But Castro’s government will also be sensitive to any criticism of its one-party political system or repression of dissidents.

READ: Pope Francis’ real challenge to Washington’s pols: Be politicians, not partisans! (ANALYSIS)

Elizardo Sanchez, head of the Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation, said most of the 30-40 opposition activists rounded up were in Santa Clara and Havana.

Among them were three dissidents whose detention kept them from a meeting with the pope on Saturday night, said Berta Soler, leader of the dissident group Ladies in White.

Instead of seeing Francis at the Vatican’s diplomatic residence in Havana, Soler said she, Miriam Leyva and Martha Beatriz Roque were in police custody for several hours.

“The Holy Father is not going to change anything in Cuba,” Soler said. “We don’t expect much from Francis because he comes here to talk about political matters between Cuba and the United States, not to resolve anything.”

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  • Jesus truly served the common people in his day by providing them with spiritual refreshing truths, such as contained in his sermon on the mount (Matthew 5:1-48).

    But the most important part of his service was preaching the good news of God’s kingdom or heavenly government (Matthew 4:17; Luke 4:43).

    In addition, he made the greatest sacrifice to the imperfect human family:

    “For even the Son of man came, not to be ministered to, but to minister and give his soul a ransom in exchange for many” (Mark 10:45).

    We humans can soon look forward to eternal life on earth through both God’s kingdom and Jesus’ ransom sacrifice.

  • Eternal life on earth is not what our Lord promised, but rather that when all has been summed up, the earth will be a barren wasteland: “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness…” (2Ptr 3:10-11). There are many people of good who tend to interpret the figurative texts Sacred Scripture literally, leading to a narrow understanding of God’s Plan. Not all Scripture is figurative, but the texts that are, require a broader understanding. And actually what might happen, as the Early Church Fathers often wrote, is that once the great Tempter has been removed and chained up, the Church on Earth will enjoy a period of splendor, possibly for 1000 years. Let’s see how it all unfolds, as we are in a very biblical period

  • Fran, the whole Jesus-sacrifice story that you keep trying to sell here is a steaming pile of bull manure. How is it again that your omnipotent being couldn’t do his saving bit without the whole silly Jesus hoopla? And how was Jesus’ death a “sacrifice”, when an omnipotent being could just pop up a replacement son any time with less than a snap of his fingers?

    Furthermore, 2000+ years without a peep from the sky fairy of your god myths, and with no verifiable evidence for its existence is more than sufficient grounds for doubt, to say the least. Pretty pathetic “god” that you’ve made for yourself there.

    Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement.
    Be free of Christianity and other superstitions.

  • Greg1, that would be your nasty jerk in the sky being a vengeful a-hole as well as a thief. Par for the course for your disgusting god myths. Get over your sick Christian delusions already.

    Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement.
    Be free of Christianity and other superstitions.

  • humans commonly invent fictional characters, including gods, but organised religions use the concept to attain riches and power at the expense of those that they scam. Nature is all that exists and all that occurs naturally, not needing a human-like persona to bring it all into existence. The idea of God is an insult to nature and the idea that man needs representatives of God is an insult to humanity.

    Serving people reminds of the horrors of serving leaders who abuse people. Much better to serve ideas like kindness, equality, nature, and humanity.

  • Greg,

    Yes, we have had this conversation before (concerning 2 Peter 3:10,11), so I will not be repetitive here. I also agree that there are some Scriptures which are figurative or symbolic, and some which are literal.

    We will have to see, then, if Jesus’ promise that the “meek shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5) is literal or not.

    Although we are now living in critical times, it is exciting to know we will soon see the end of this wicked era (Matt. 24, Mark 13, Luke 21). ?

  • Yes, I would agree with you there, Fran. But I do not read end times prophecy in a literal way; rather I tend to say this or that “might” happen, but hold off on proclaiming how it all will unfold. The Early Church Fathers, such as Irenaeus, Papias, and Justin Martyr, often did give their thoughts on it, and saw readings such as Is 2:2, 11;6, Rev 20:1, to be symbolic of a time of rest and splendor for the Catholic Church, where she will shine in the Glory of God, and not subject to temptation from the Devil; in many ways they saw Christ’s reign as through the Church. But in the end, they all saw that as a temporal thing, leading to eternity in heaven.

  • Fran,

    All of your “thum-ptations” fail rigorous historic testing. Might want to do some perusing outside the NT box that you are trapped in.

  • Fran and Greg1, you are just entangling on the position of deck chairs on your leaky ship, but the reality is that your foundational Jesus story and your disgusting holy book with its vengeful, hateful, and bigoted god never held water to begin with.

    It is striking that you rely on quoting various versions of a multiply-translated ancient book with anecdotes by a multitude of questionable authors, but there is not even a single shred of verifiable, testable recent evidence for the claims of your crazy myths that you can present.

    Get over your Jesus delusions already. They are a disgrace to humanity, as are your efforts to sustain those delusions.

    Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement.
    Be free of Christianity and other superstitions.

  • O.K. you do not like the word “liar”. Try this.
    Jesus was a Greek word for an individual person. The Christ was an idea about a redeemer for all persons.
    “We (Christians) do not serve ideas. We serve people” is an oxymoron.

  • In other words, “nuance” must be applied to any reading of the Bible. I agree. Unfortunately, too many Christians take that as license to interpret things any way they want.