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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.

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For Every Era, Its Own Fascism — This Is How Ours Is Starting To Look

Right-wing movements have surged in Europe, and fascism is on the ascendancy across disparate regions of the world. As populist leaders gain power, the specter of authoritarianism looms large.

A man with a black hoodie painting a portait of Geert Wilders

A man painting Geert Wilders portrait

Thierry Ehrman/Flickr
Oleksandr Demchenko


Across the globe, worrying trends are emerging in both politics and society.

In the Netherlands, the Freedom Party, known for its anti-European, anti-Muslim, and anti-Ukrainian stance, recently won the national elections. In Argentina, newly elected president Javier Milei proposes an extreme solution to the economic crisis – destroying the central bank. Right-wing movements are gaining traction among young voters across Europe, seduced by neo-Nazi influences not seen since World War II.

China has long been operating concentration camps for Uyghur Muslims, while racism remains a major problem in Russia. Next year will witness a phalanx of critical elections worldwide, with over three billion people voting for new governments. Concerns over the potential rise of anti-democratic governments are growing in tandem.

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In this climate of deepening polarization and radicalization, many commentators have issued warnings about the free world losing ground to autocracy. But there's another underlying trend that's not being discussed directly enough: the shift towards fascism, itself. Left-wing radicalism, anti-immigrant sentiments, demographic challenges, and terrorism have all contributed to the rise of fascists camouflaged as populist dictators.

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