When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Cuba

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 — 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 — 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 — then archbishop of Buenos Aires — 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 — he told French President Francois Hollande that "if the pope continues like this, he will return to the Church" — 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 — and whether it will come before his expected retirement in 2018. Fidel's gestures, meanwhile, are even harder to predict.

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

Geopolitics

Smaller Allies Matter: Afghanistan Offers Hard Lessons For Ukraine's Future

Despite controversies at home, Nordic countries were heavily involved in the NATO-led war in Afghanistan. As the Ukraine war grinds on, lessons from that conflict are more relevant than ever.

Photo of Finnish Defence Forces in Afghanistan

Finnish Defence Forces in Afghanistan

Johannes Jauhiainen

-Analysis-

HELSINKI — In May 2021, the Taliban took back power in Afghanistan after 20 years of international presence, astronomical sums of development aid and casualties on all warring sides.

As Kabul fell, a chaotic evacuation prompted comparisons to the fall of Saigon — and most of the attention was on the U.S., which had led the original war to unseat the Taliban after 9/11 and remained by far the largest foreign force on the ground. Yet, the fall of Kabul was also a tumultuous and troubling experience for a number of other smaller foreign countries who had been presented for years in Afghanistan.

In an interview at the time, Antti Kaikkonen, the Finnish Minister of Defense, tried to explain what went wrong during the evacuation.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

Sign up to our free daily newsletter.

“Originally we anticipated that the smaller countries would withdraw before the Americans. Then it became clear that getting people to the airport had become more difficult," Kaikkonen said. "So we decided last night to bring home our last soldiers who were helping with the evacuation.”

During the 20-year-long Afghan war, the foreign troop presence included many countries:Finland committed around 2,500 soldiers,Sweden 8,000,Denmark 12,000 and Norway 9,000. And in the nearly two years since the end of the war, Finland,Belgium and theNetherlands have commissioned investigations into their engagements in Afghanistan.

As the number of fragile or failed states around the world increases, it’s important to understand how to best organize international development aid and the security of such countries. Twenty years of international engagement in Afghanistan offers valuable lessons.

Keep reading...Show less

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

The latest