MJ ENTRY: Cuban community receptive to papal visit and change in Havana

Friday September 18, 2015

By David Deen

OTTAWA - Pope Francis will arrive in Havana, Cuba, Saturday and some Cuban-Canadians are especially enthusiastic for this papal visit. “I am very happy with this apostolic visit of Pope Francis,” said Cuban Moraima Pride, president of the Cuban Canadian Ottawa-Gatineau Association. “He showed that he does care for the people.”

Her support has been shared by Cubans in Havana. Banners line the streets and the stage is set in Plaza de la Revolución (Revolution Square) to welcome the leader of the Roman Catholic Church on his first visit to the island nation. It comes at time of change in Cuba, experiencing economic liberalization and the re-starting of diplomatic relations with the United States.

I believe that the change in relations between Cuba and the United States is a result of the Pope’s work,” said Yasmina Proveyer, a Cuban-born, Ottawa-based settlement worker. “His hand and his work were behind that.”

The Vatican confirmed that Pope Francis has sent multiple letters to both U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro, inviting both sides to “resolve humanitarian questions of common interest” and Francis facilitated diplomatic meetings with both, including meetings hosted by Canada.

“I believe the Cuban community in Ottawa view the recent changes in the diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States government in a positive light,” said Pride. “While dramatic changes on both sides of the border still remain out of reach, the relationship as it was clearly not conducive to development.”

Proveyer was in Cuba for the first papal visit in 1998 and believes it was a significant moment. “After the revolution so many people had to hide their religion,” she recalled, “but after that visit I could see that it was important for people’s freedom and spirit.”

Observers acknowledge a unique relationship the pope has with the leadership in Havana. “This particular Pope seems to have a special interest in Cuba,” said Archibald Ritter, an economics professor at Carleton University, and although not a Cuban, he has written extensively on Cuba. “He has some liberation theology in his repertoire and he seems to get along with the Castro brothers. It is a bit surprising, but maybe he is parlaying that into some kind of reform process.”

On Sept. 11, as outlined in the state newspaper Granma, Cuba announced the release of 3,522 prisoners, an act of good faith in line with previous papal visits.