Cuba: Are The Castro Brothers Returning To Catholic Fold?

The renewed relations with the U.S. may have been prompted by the Cuban revolutionaries' connection with Pope Francis.

Pope Francis and Raul Castro in May 2015
Pope Francis and Raul Castro in May 2015
Paolo Mastrolilli

HAVANA â€" Rumors that Fidel and Raul Castro are returning to the Catholic faith are growing in substance. As current President Raul Castro charts a new course for the Communist country, the brothers are reportedly rediscovering the faith they grew up in.

In their youth, the Castro boys attended the Colegio de Dolores, a prestigious Jesuit school in the city of Santiago de Cuba. The Castros later strayed from their upbringing, and after the 1959 revolution, Fidel closed the country's Catholic schools and expelled all Jesuits.

The Marxist government even prohibited celebrating Christmas because it interfered with the sugarcane harvest. Little changed in Havana's attitude towards organized religion until Pope John Paul II's 1998 visit, which began to improve Church-state relations.

When Benedict XVI assumed the papacy, Fidel told him that "spiritual reflections" had become a significant part of his life. But it was the election of the first Latin American pope, Francis, who also happens to be a Jesuit, that truly reconciled the erstwhile revolutionary with the Catholic Church.

John Paul II and Fidel Castro in Havana on Jan. 21, 1998 â€" Photo: Brian Baer/Tampa Bay Times

When Francis visited the island last September, Fidel showed him underlined sentences from John Paul II’s 1998 speech in Cuba: "Cuba must open itself to the world, and the world must open itself to Cuba." (There have long been reports that say it was Francis himself â€" then archbishop of Buenos Aires â€" who wrote those words, a story he has never denied.)

Francis responded to Fidel Castro's gesture by giving him a collection of writings by his favorite teacher at the Colegio de Dolores, who died in exile. Castro told the pope that he "became a revolutionary thanks to the Jesuits," noting it was them "who taught him to reason and always challenge authority."

People close to Fidel, 89, think his return to the faith could still be a slower process, but that Raul’s may happen more quickly. The 84-year-old current president told Pope Francis during his visit to Rome that his return to the Church's pastoral mission was the reason for his own reconciliation with Catholicism. While he may have said it for the cameras, declarations he has made since â€" he told French President Francois Hollande that "if the pope continues like this, he will return to the Church" â€" prove there is substance behind the words.

It remains to be seen whether Raul's reconciliation will lead to a public announcement of his rediscovered faith â€" and whether it will come before his expected retirement in 2018. Fidel's gestures, meanwhile, are even harder to predict.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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