Liberation legacy follows the pope to Cuba

The pope’s visit to Cuba should inspire hope in all people of good will. The legacy John Paul II is crowned by his achievements to help liberate people from tyranny and to reverse age-old demagoguery.
I was baptized Catholic. Learning the long history of the Catholic Church, therefore, has been especially difficult. Like most other religions, terrible injustices and repressions have been carried out in the name of God by Catholics. This history only heightens the recognition that John Paul II’s legacy of liberation is revolutionary way beyond the obvious.
For centuries, Vatican City has seen corruption and oppression within its walls, including anti-Semitism. Early Catholicism grew as a politically driven cause to separate Christianity from Judaism because the Romans were intent on wiping out Jews. The result was that hideous libels were promoted.
While claiming that such things as the Black Death were Jewish conspiracies, in 1236 Pope Gregory IX condemned Judaism. There was a trial in the 16th century in which Pope Paul IV had thousands of Jews who had escaped from the Spanish Inquisition publicly burned at the stake. He first introduced the ghettoization of Jews.
In the late 18th century, Pope Pius VI forcibly commanded Jews to convert to Christianity. His rules against Jews resulted in ghetto massacres and wide-spread persecution. In 1858, Pope Pius IX also enforced such anti-Semitism by forcibly removing children from their Jewish parents. The Vatican was prominent at the 1882 Anti-Jewish Congress of Dresden.
Nazi propagator Alfred Rosenberg used the publications distributed by Catholic organizations in Germany from 1871 to 1920 to condemn Jews for killing Christians and called for their elimination in May 1934 in the German newspaper Die Sturmer.
It is from this tragic heritage that the current pope sought to revolutionize and reform the Vatican. Upon assuming office, he met with large numbers of non-Christians and has since worked to correct past Vatican demagoguery. His most significant achievement is reversing the legacy of Catholic crimes against Jews.
This Christmas, Pope John Paul II went so far as to acknowledge Judaism as the “father” of Christianity, and he became the first pope to light a menorah in the Vatican. However innocuous this may sound, it is a major event that reverses centuries of Catholic injustice against Jews.
He has also reversed a long legacy of the Vatican being silent and abiding to repressive regimes throughout European history. The Vatican had long pursued non-confrontational relations with the Soviet empire in line with its kowtowing to World War II fascist powers.
As one who witnessed Nazi terrors and then Soviet tyranny, this pope was not one to be pliant. To the chagrin of Vatican traditionalists, the pope took on the Soviets directly. He battled a system of Soviet tyranny that cost the lives of up to 60 million people. Perhaps no greater horror in human history can compare to the Soviet system.
So central was his role in defeating Soviet Communism that even Carter and Reagan sought to combine their efforts with him in what has been called “one of the greatest secret alliances of all time.”
Now it’s Cuba’s turn. Castro won’t find it easy to shrug off the pope’s message of liberation because the pope can say things that not even the most aggressive American could say. He can, and does, speak with a moral fervor about religious freedom and respect for human rights and individuality. These might sound like American ideals, but as a secular liberal democracy there are some things our political leaders can’t emphasize as much as religious leaders can.
The pope’s Cuban visit is also a challenge to Americans. While he is no ally of Castro’s police state, the pope is one leader who doesn’t respect the effects of the embargo either. He posits himself as a spokesman “in the name of those who have no voice… of the innocent who are dying because they have neither bread nor water.” As much as the United States might stand against Castro’s repression, the people of Cuba are suffering from sanctions.
It is useful to learn from this pope because he has learned from Europe’s liberation from Soviet rule. He seeks to awaken people’s consciousness, not to encourage a blind stampede against authority. This was the way that the peaceful eastern European velvet revolutions of 1989 began.
I hope those who are disgusted with Castro and communism in Cuba will heed the pope’s message of peaceful change. It is hard to ignore the fact that embargoes and sanctions alone have not achieved United States’ goals. Perhaps even this country can learn much from the pope.
This pope is no lightweight in confronting and defeating injustice. His words may be subtle, and he is an old man, but his revolutionary impact within one of the world’s least revolutionary institutions is not one to underestimate. Thus, his visit to Cuba is definitely one to inspire hope in all people of good will.

Joe Roche is a senior in CLA. He can be contacted at [email protected]