Pope Francis in Cuba: "The World Needs Reconciliation in This Atmosphere of a Third World War"

September 21, 2015


Carlos Alzugaray Treto

former Cuban diplomat who attended the pope’s mass in Havana on Sunday and has closely followed the pope’s visit. He is a scholar, writer and former Havana University professor.

Andrea Bartoli

member of Community of Sant’Egidio, a liberal Catholic group active in international affairs. He’s the organization’s representative to the United Nations and the United States. Bartoli is also the dean of the School of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University.

Ahead of his first U.S. visit, Pope Francis celebrated mass in Cuba Sunday before hundreds of thousands of worshipers in Havana’s Revolution Square. Born in Argentina, Francis is the first Latin American pope. He is widely praised in Cuba for helping to broker secret talks with Washington that resulted in the further normalization of U.S.-Cuban relations, and praised the detente between the two countries as "an example of reconciliation for the entire world." The pope’s homily in Havana included no direct political message besides urging the successful conclusion of Colombia peace talks that have been taking place in Cuba for nearly three years. On Tuesday, Pope Francis arrives in Washington, where he will address Congress and meet with President Obama. We speak about Pope Francis’ Cuba-U.S. trip with Carlos Alzugaray Treto, a former Cuban diplomat and former Havana University professor; and Andrea Bartoli, dean of the School of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University and member of the Community of Sant’Egidio, a liberal Catholic group active in international affairs.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Ahead of his first U.S. visit, Pope Francis celebrated mass in Cuba Sunday before hundreds of thousands of worshipers in Havana’s Revolution Square. Born in Argentina, Francis is the first Latin American pope. He is widely praised in Cuba for helping to broker secrets talks with Washington that resulted in the further normalization of U.S.-Cuban relations. After arriving in Cuba Saturday, Pope Francis praised the detente between the two countries as, quote, "an example of reconciliation for the entire world." During Sunday’s mass in Havana, Pope Francis called on Catholics to be of service to one another.

POPE FRANCIS: [translated] People of flesh and blood, people with individual lives and stories and with all their frailty, these are those whom Jesus asks us to protect, to care for, to serve, because being a Christian entails serving the dignity of your brothers and sisters, to fight for our brothers’ and sisters’ dignity, and to live for the dignity of your brothers and sisters. That is why Christians are constantly called to set aside their own wishes and desires, their pursuit of power, and to look instead to those who are most vulnerable. There is a kind of service which truly serves others, yet we need to be careful not to be tempted by another kind of service, a service which is self-serving. There is a way to go about serving, which is interested in only helping my people in the name of our people. This service always leaves your people outside and gives rise to a process of exclusion.

AMY GOODMAN: The pope’s homily in Havana included no direct political message besides urging the successful conclusion of Colombia peace talks that have been taking place in Cuba for nearly three years.

After the mass, Pope Francis met former Cuban leader Fidel Castro at his home. The pope, who is Jesuit, gave Castro a collection of sermons by Castro’s former Jesuit teacher, the Reverend Amando Llorente, and two CD recordings of the Spanish priest speaking. Te pope also met with President Raúl Castro at the Palace of Revolution.

On Tuesday, Pope Francis arrives in Washington, where he’ll address Congress and meet with President Obama. According to some accounts, Pope Francis had initially wanted to begin his U.S. trip by crossing the Mexican border to show support for immigrants, but the plan had to be scrapped for logistical reasons. After Washington, the pope heads to New York and Philadelphia. Over the weekend, the Vatican released a short video of Pope Francis speaking in English about his Philadelphia stop.

POPE FRANCIS: I look forward to greeting the pilgrims and the people of Philadelphia when I come for the World Meeting of Families. I will be there, because you will be there. See you in Philadelphia.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about Pope Francis’s Cuba and U.S. trips, we’re joined by two guests. In Havana, Dr. Carlos Alzugaray Treto, a former Cuban diplomat who attended the pope’s mass in Havana Sunday and has closely followed the pope’s visit. Dr. Treto is a scholar and writer and former Havana University professor. Here in New York, we’re joined by Andrea Bartoli. The Community of Sant’Egidio is the group he is with, a liberal Catholic group active in international affairs. He’s the representative to the U.N. and the United States. Bartoli is also the dean of the School of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! But let’s begin in Havana. Dr. Treto, can you talk about what happened on Sunday, the mass in Havana’s Revolution Square? Describe the scene for us and what the pope said.

CARLOS ALZUGARAY TRETO: Well, I think—Amy, thank you for having me. I think first you have to describe the city the day before. It’s very important, because it was a Saturday. And everything was very subdued, like everyone was in the expectation of what was going to happen on Sunday. Night places were not full of patrons. Patrons simply stayed at home and got ready for the mass.

The mass was attended by a large number of Cubans. I think that it’s interesting, because it underlines the very complex religiosity of the Cuban people. I bet that there were many practicing Catholics. And as a matter of fact, communion was handed out all over the Plaza de la Revolución. But at the same time, there were many curious people who simply were attracted by the figure of the pope.

This is the first Latin American pope. His position in international affairs is quite different from what we have seen in the past, because the pope has aligned itself—in the big debates of the world today, the pope has aligned itself with the poor people, with the underdeveloped countries. But his message at the Plaza was basically a Catholic message, and under no doubt that it helped the Catholic Church in Cuba. The Catholic Church in Cuba is not very influential, mainly because it had been always in the national debates on the wrong side. But now the church is aligning itself with the right side. And it’s interesting because, to a great extent, it is the Vatican that has promoted that position of the church.

And even though at the mass yesterday the pope simply kept going a message of solidarity, of getting together, but the cardinal, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, mentioned the fact that the church was playing a role in the normalization of relations with the United States, and the church, through Cardinal Ortega, very distinctly stepped on the side of normalization. And this is important, because there was a large delegation of Cuban Americans from Miami and other places in the United States. I personally met with the bishop of Miami, Archbishop Wenski, and there were lots of Cuban Americans who some years ago wouldn’t have dreamed to come to Cuba, and now they are here in Cuba being part of this process. As a matter of fact, many of them have left for Holguín to be present at the mass today in Holguín.

AMY GOODMAN: And describe the mass that you attended, what Revolution Square was like on Sunday. And then talk about the significance of the meeting between the pope, between Pope Francis, the first Latin American pope, and Fidel Castro at his home with his family.

CARLOS ALZUGARAY TRETO: OK. The mass, the mass was full of people. I was surprised by the number of young people who are Catholic, who are believing Catholic. This is important for the church, because in the past the church has never crossed the threshold of maybe 10 percent of the population being practicing Catholics. So, it was a manifestation of the growing influence of the church, although my opinion is that it’s not something that will continue to grow forever, because there are obviously limits of what the church can be part of. Maybe the most significant one was the meeting the pope had yesterday in the afternoon in front of the Centro Félix Varela with young people in Cuba. So, I think the important thing here is the church has been growing, but it’s siding in cooperation with the government. And this is very significant. There is no, let’s say, open conflict, although the church would like more presence. And that presence is being achieved with the help of the Vatican.

Now, my view of the meeting with Fidel, it’s very interesting. I mean, Fidel, since 1985, when he gave the interview to Frei Betto and appeared in a book called Fidel and Religion, he has come out as a person who has studied in Catholic schools. I, myself, went to Belén, just like Fidel, and I have a lot of respect for the Jesuits, for the way that the Jesuits have helped us learn more and be constructive, so—which was not the case, by the way, in the Belén that Fidel and me met, because at that time Belén was quite conservative. But, you know, there is such a coincidence between the political positions of Fidel Castro in the world stage—and Raúl Castro, for that matter—and the position of the pope. It’s for equality, for the poor, for advancing progressive agenda worldwide. So, I see it as part of that and as this continuous relationship that began many years ago, especially when, in 1998, Pope John Paul visited Cuba, and the connection between John Paul and Fidel was so good. So, this continues to happen today. Remember, when the pope arrived in Cuba, the first thing the—Pope Francis arrived in Cuba, the first thing he said at his speech, "Please, Mr. President, give my greetings to your brother, Fidel Castro," which, of course, it’s kind of contradictory with the original position of the church in the early years of the revolution, because the church sided with the United States, with the upper classes, against the revolution. And that situation continued in the '60s and the ’70s. It started to change in the ’80s. Both sides approached each other since the ’80s. And I think this is—this was underlined by everything that the pope did yesterday, but especially by his meeting Fidel Castro, who is—after all, he's the historical leader of the Cuban revolution.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to come back to this discussion with Dr. Carlos Alzugaray Treto, former Cuban diplomat, and we’ll also be joined here in New York by Dr. Andrea Bartoli, who is the dean of public—Diplomacy at Seton Hall University. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: "Mi Guajira," here on Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. Speaking shortly after his arrival Saturday in Havana, Pope Francis praised the recent rapprochement between Cuba and the United States, in which the pope played a key role, and he urged them to set an example for the world, which, he warned, has an atmosphere of, quote, "a third world war."

POPE FRANCIS: [translated] For some months now, we have witnessed an event which fills us with hope: the process of normalizing relations between two peoples following years of estrangement. It’s a process. It’s a sign of the victory of the culture of encounter and dialogue, the system of universal growth over the forever-dead system of groups and dynasties, which José Martí said. I urge political leaders to persevere on this path and to develop all its potentialities as a proof of the high service which they are called to carry out on behalf of the peace and well-being of our peoples of all America and as an example of reconciliation for the entire world. The world needs reconciliation in this atmosphere of a third world war.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Pope Francis when he first arrived in Cuba. He’ll come to the United States tomorrow, on Tuesday. Our guests, to talk about this, in Havana, Carlos Alzugaray Treto, a former Cuban diplomat, and here in New York, we’re joined by Dr. Andrea Bartoli. He’s with the Community of Sant’Egidio, a liberal Catholic group active in international affairs, and is also the dean of the School of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University in New Jersey.

Dr. Andrea Bartoli, tell us about your take on the significance of the pope’s visit. First he chose to go to Cuba, and then he’s coming to the United States. And he played a key secret role in the rapprochement between the two, now calling for an end to the embargo.

ANDREA BARTOLI: So, first of all, it’s very clear that the timing is marvelous. He could have come to the U.S. without going to Cuba. He could have gone to the U.S. first and then to Cuba. Instead, there is his choice of going to Cuba first. Francis is very clear in his message. He likes peripheries. He wants to see the world through the peripheries. He wants to come to the center of the world from the periphery. So the moment of Francis is very telling. And I think it’s a very important moment. He’s not only going to Cuba because Cuba is a Catholic country traditionally, because there is a cultural legacy—he speaks Spanish, obviously, in Cuba—but I think because diplomacy is made with encounters, with this challenge of encountering somebody that can be threatening. And the relationship between Cuba and the U.S. has been clearly mutually threatening for quite some times. So, Francis is trying to say encounter is a challenge, encounter is a risk that you take, and diplomacy must be taken boldly, must be taken with some gusto. And I think that the message that he’s saying is that the U.S. is actually ready for this challenge and has done well so far.

AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk about how the pope did facilitate this rapprochement, something that wasn’t known about until it was announced—well, known by some?

ANDREA BARTOLI: So, it’s very interesting, because in many ways the two parties didn’t need Francis at all. They did all the work in Canada, and they did all the work by themselves. So, in many ways, you wonder why did they think that it was necessary to go to the Vatican and have this blessing. And I think that there is something about the general perception in the world that serious problem must be solved by war, that serious problem must be solved violently, a serious problem must be solved by victory. And instead, both of them felt that Francis was very important in blessing this idea that serious problem actually must be solved by diplomacy, must be solved politically. So the role of the pope was actually at the very end. It was almost a blessing, a fatherly blessing of an agreement that was already made by the Americans and the Cubans.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, this is not the first time a pope has gone to Cuba. You had Pope John Paul II, as well as Pope Benedict.

ANDREA BARTOLI: Yes, indeed. And it’s a very interesting process, because, as we know now, Bergoglio Cardinal studied Wojtyla’s visit very, very carefully. Wojtyla’s visit was an important one. This is a pope that was born in Poland, expressed, you know, and lived in his own way—you know, the tragedy of Europe, Nazi Germany occupying Poland, and then the communist occupation and experience—and yet came out victorious because he felt that the church needed to be the church, needed to be a space for people to think freely. And interestingly enough, his visit to Cuba had similar overtone. The church is not confronting the government, is not aligning itself against the government, but is clearly creating conditions for new options to emerge, is clearly giving the system a possibility to breathe. And Bergoglio clearly is setting himself into this line that Benedict, too, wanted to strengthen.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you comment on the comments made about the pope by New Jersey governor and Republican presidential hopeful Chris Christie? Christie is Catholic, but, speaking to CNN, he said he disagrees with the pope on the U.S.-Cuba relationship.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE: I just think the pope was wrong. And so, the fact is that his infallibility is on religious matters, not on political ones. And the fact is that, for me, I just believe that when you have a government that is harboring fugitives, murdering fugitives, like JoAnne Chesimard who murdered a state policeman in New Jersey in cold blood, was broken out of prison and has been harbored for the last 40-plus years by a Cuban government that has paid her and held her up as a hero, that this president could extend diplomatic relations with that country without getting her returned, so that she can serve the prison sentence that she was sentenced to by a jury of her peers in New Jersey, is outrageous. And so, I just happen to disagree with the pope on this one.

AMY GOODMAN: That is Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey. You are at Seton Hall University. You’re the head of the School of Diplomacy and International Relations, you’re the dean of it. Seton Hall in East Orange, New Jersey. Your response to Governor Christie?

ANDREA BARTOLI: So, the governor, Christie, is right: The pope is infallible only on matters of faith and when he speaks ex cathedra. So that point is very clear. But the question is: Should we keep countries frozen in a 50-years relationship that doesn’t go anywhere? The fugitive that Governor Christie mentioned is not in New Jersey, and is not going to be in New Jersey anytime soon if the policy of the U.S. remains the same. So, the result of that policy is that justice, according to New Jersey law, was definitely not served. Do we have a chance that that justice will be served if there is an agreement between the U.S. and Cuba? I would say that is certainly much higher. So, in a world of probability, I would say that actually the pope is right, in a sense that even the justice that Governor Christie is claiming will actually be probably better served by a collaboration between the government of Cuba and the government of the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about his trip to the United States and the significance of this, and the priest he will be sanctifying here when he first comes to Washington, D.C.

ANDREA BARTOLI: So, Junípero Serra is clearly an interesting presence in the U.S. He was a Spanish-speaking missionary, and his memory is very fond in certain quarters, but he’s also debated. And I think it’s important for people to realize that the debate within the Catholic Church has been around for quite some times. We celebrated a few years ago 500 years of the Montesinos homilies, you know, these famous words in which this Dominican friar was condemning the Spanish conquistadores to—against, you know, their oppression of the natives. And las Casas and the others clearly put that emphasis into play. So the Catholic Church has been thinking this contradiction for quite some times. And interestingly enough, the Jesuits themselves found in Latin America a very interesting history of experimenting with politics that the European monarchy couldn’t accept. So I think that what we are seeing here is the long end of a long history. And the Catholic Church has been around for quite some times.

AMY GOODMAN: Pope Francis’s decision to canonize Father Serra has drawn a strong protest from many Native Americans. They accuse—they say that in the 18th century the Franciscan missionary was brutal, imposing conversion to Catholicism. This is Corine Fairbanks, director of the Southern California chapter of the American Indian Movement, or AIM.

CORINE FAIRBANKS: I think that Serra was, you know, an accomplice and co-conspirator to rape, land theft, torture, murder. I think that he’s just as bad as Hitler. I mean, some people might not understand the comparison, but he was a man with a vision and kept nothing—nothing—in the way of making that vision happen, didn’t care how many thousands of people that he hurt. He had a vision, he had a plan, he executed it.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Andrea Bartoli, your response? Interestingly, the pope has condemned colonialism, has apologized to indigenous and Native American people.

ANDREA BARTOLI: Yeah, exactly. So, this is a very interesting challenge for the Catholic Church more than anyone else, you know, of being a presence in human history for more than 2,000 years. And so, clearly, you have contradictions in acts that were wrong and for which the church has apologized. The pope himself, especially John Paul II, started this expression of contrition. But I also think that it’s important to realize how the debates within the church were well alive at that time and are still alive, and also how the political realities of that moment—you know, the secular forces were pushing for even further oppression and discrimination. So I think that the choices that we make today are clearly making the world as we live it, but it’s important to realize that the ways in which we remember is also counting.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back to Dr. Carlos Alzugaray Treto in Havana, in Cuba, and ask you about Assata Shakur, who Governor Christie was talking about. Assata Shakur, who was known—who was born as JoAnne Chesimard [married name was Chesimard] was convicted May 2nd, 1973, of killing of a New Jersey state trooper during a shootout that left one of her fellow activists dead on the New Jersey Turnpike. She was shot twice by the New Jersey police during the incident. In ’79, she managed to escape from jail. She later fled to Cuba. And she has long proclaimed her innocence, but said she could not get a fair trial in the United States. Is it possible that her exile is threatened under this rapprochement, Dr. Treto?

CARLOS ALZUGARAY TRETO: The Cuban government has been very clear on this issue. They have insisted again and again that JoAnne Chesimard, or Assata Shakur, is a political exile, is considered a political exile by the Cuban government. Of course, Governor Christie, it’s only normal that he would have that opinion, but I would invite him to think about these things, because, I mean, if we are going to stop the normalization process because of these kinds of issues, the Cuban government can say, "Why doesn’t the United States extradite to Cuba Luis Posada Carriles, whose case is even worse, even than the one that Christie describes about Assata Shakur?" Luis Posada Carriles is a terrorist, and he has confessed to major crimes. He’s not—he was tried and convicted in Venezuela, tried and convicted in Panama, but in Panama he was pardoned by the influence of the right-wing Cuban Americans. And he is in the United States, and the United States hasn’t processed him for his terrorist activities, even though the—in internal documents, it is recognized that he’s a violent terrorist. And he’s not extradited. Now, the Cuban government could say, "Well, I am not going to talk to the American government until they extradite Posada Carriles." They don’t say that, because the logical thing is for these issues to be debated diplomatically and to be talked about diplomatically. It’s a reality, unfortunately. It’s a reality of our long conflict. But Cuba stands on its position that she is a political—she came to Cuba asking for political asylum, and she was given political asylum by the Cuban government.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, this—I don’t know if it was a rumor, but the possibility that the pope would have come up to the United States through the Mexican border, Dr. Bartoli, what do you know about this?

ANDREA BARTOLI: Well, I think it’s a wonderful gesture, and I think that it’s definitely possible that Francis had considered that. You know, you will remember him at the wall. And I think that it’s important for Francis to realize that his presence and his politic is not just made by speeches, it’s also made by gestures. And he’s actually becoming more known, in many ways, in this global age, through these gestures. I think that we also need to remember that American cardinals went to the wall, to the border, to celebrate. Cardinal O’Malley, who is fluent in Spanish and fluent in Portuguese and has been a very strong defender of the rights of the immigrant, already did this. So, for the Catholic Church, that border is particularly relevant, because, as we can imagine, Catholics are everywhere—clearly very strong in the U.S., but very strong in Mexico, too. So, it would have been a wonderful gesture, and it’s interesting that it could not happen.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Sant’Egidio, the community that you represent—we only have a minute, but can you explain how this relates to the pope and what this community of liberal Catholic service does?

ANDREA BARTOLI: So, in this particular case, the community is a largest movement of Catholics in Cuba, and it’s growing quite remarkably, being born in Rome in 1968, its presence in the United States, and has being working on peacemaking for a long time. I’m representing the community to the U.N. because we were involved in the peace process in Mozambique. We have been involved in Albania and Algeria, in many countries. And we are working now on Syria. So the Community of Sant’Egidio is the beginning of a new church, after Vatican II. It’s the expression of a new Catholic understanding of the world. And this is why we feel that Francis is so important, not just for Catholics, but for everyone.

AMY GOODMAN: And in Syria, you are doing what?

ANDREA BARTOLI: In Syria, we gathered all the non-armed Syrian opposition, and we have been working with de Mistura on the new concept and the new ideas on ways in which diplomacy could address the issue. Our presence in Syria has been especially through the Christians in the territory. One in particular—two bishops and one Catholic priest, Mar Gregorios Ibrahim and Paul Yazigi, a Syrian Orthodox and Orthodox—Greek Orthodox bishop, and Paolo Dall’Oglio, all kidnapped, have been in our prayers every day since the kidnapping. The community has been dedicated to Syria from all over the world. And I think it’s very, very important to realize that we definitely feel the lacking of a peace movement worldwide for peace in Syria. It’s just outrageous what is happening there and the lack of response that we have.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us, and I’d like to continue the conversation at another time with you about Sant’Egidio’s work all over the world. Dr. Andrea Bartoli is the representative of the Community of Sant’Egidio, a liberal Catholic group active in international affairs, dean of the School of Diplomacy and International Relations, as well, at Seton Hall University. And Carlos Alzugaray Treto, a former Cuban diplomat, speaking to us directly from Havana, Cuba.

This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, we looked at racial relations over the last 50 years, but particularly focusing in the last years around President Obama and the Clintons. We’ll speak with Joy-Ann Reid, author and MSNBC correspondent, about her book called Fracture. Stay with us.

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