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Without God man is hurled into a void, Pope tells Cubans

By on Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Pope Benedict XVI waves to the crowd at the Mass (CNS photo)

Pope Benedict XVI waves to the crowd at the Mass (CNS photo)

At his first Mass in Cuba Pope Benedict XVI has acknowledged the struggles of the country’s Catholics in the face of Communism and described human freedom as a necessity for salvation and social justice.

The Pope spoke in Antonio Maceo Revolution Square, in Cuba’s second-largest city. He had arrived in the country a few hours earlier, after spending three days in Mexico.

The Vatican had said the square would hold 200,000 people and it was full; several thousand also filled the streets leading to the square. Cuban President Raul Castro, who welcomed the Pope at the airport, sat in the front row for Mass.

Tens of thousands of those at the Mass wore white T-shirts welcoming the Pope as the “pilgrim of charity”; many wore baseball caps to protect them from the hot sun.

Before the Pope arrived in the popemobile, the original statue of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, Cuba’s patroness, was driven atop a white truck through the cheering crowd. The statue then was enthroned near the papal altar.

In his homily, Pope Benedict recognised the “effort, daring and self-sacrifice” required of Cuban Catholics “in the concrete circumstances of your country and at this moment in history”. Though now more tolerant of religious practice than in earlier decades, the Communist state continues to prevent the construction of new churches and strictly limits Catholic access to state media.

In a possible allusion to reports that the regime had prevented political opponents from attending the Mass, Pope Benedict extended his customary mention of those absent for reasons of age or health to include people who, “for other motives, are not able to join us”.

The Pope painted a dire picture of a society without faith.

“When God is set aside, the world becomes an inhospitable place for man,” he said. “Apart from God, we are alienated from ourselves and are hurled into the void.

“Obedience to God is what opens the doors of the world to the truth, to salvation,” the pope said. “Redemption is always this process of the lifting up of the human will to full communion with the divine will.”

Taking his theme from the day’s liturgical feast of the Annunciation, when Mary learned that she would conceive and bear the Son of God, the Pope emphasised that fulfilment of the divine plan involved Mary’s free acceptance of her role.

“Our God, coming into the world, wished to depend on the free consent of one of his creatures,” Pope Benedict said. “It is touching to see how God not only respects human freedom. He almost seems to require it.”

The most specific advice in the Pope’s homily regarded a topic familiar to his listeners in the prosperous capitalist countries of Western Europe and North America: the sanctity of the “family founded on matrimony” as the “fundamental cell of society and an authentic domestic Church”.

“You, dear husbands and wives, are called to be, especially for your children, a real and visible sign of the love of Christ for the Church,” Pope Benedict said. “Cuba needs the witness of your fidelity, your unity, your capacity to welcome human life, especially that of the weakest and most needy.”

According to the Centre for Demographic Studies at the University of Havana, Cuba’s divorce rate has almost tripled in four decades, rising from 22 divorces per 100 marriages in 1970 to 64 in 2009. The country’s parliament is scheduled later this year to consider the legal recognition of same-sex marriage, in response to a campaign led by Mariela Castro, daughter of President Raul Castro.

Despite his challenges to Cuban society, Pope Benedict concluded his homily by repeating an earlier call for patience with the Catholic Church’s policy of dialogue and cooperation with the Communist regime, a process initiated by Blessed John Paul II during his 1998 visit to Cuba.

“May we accept with patience and faith whatever opposition may come,” the Pope said. “Armed with peace, forgiveness and understanding … strive to build a renewed and open society, a better society, one more worthy of humanity, and which better reflects the goodness of God.”

A 30-year-old woman in a baseball cap who identified herself only as Xichel told the American Catholic News Service she and about 100 others travelled about 165 miles from Camaguey for the Mass, and she hoped to see the Pope in Havana. Older pilgrims travelled by train or bus, she said.

“I came to see the Pope because I am Catholic and he is the successor of Peter, who was the first pope,” she said, adding that she saw Blessed John Paul in Camaguey in 1998.

She also expressed pride that a member of her parish was to read the second reading.

After the first reading, hundreds of people began leaving the Mass. Unlike large-scale papal Masses in other cities, this one had no Jumbotron screens and, to many, the pope looked like a small figure on the distant altar. Many who had been praying and singing seemed not to focus on the homily and began chatting or moving about.

Contributing to this story was Cindy Wooden in Havana.

  • Parasum

    If God is so necessary to human life – how come many people get on perfectly well without any religion whatever ? It’s impossible to evangelise people who are not conscious of any need of God. It’s not God that people need, if they are to be happy – they need a sufficient reason to motivate them. And that part can be played by anything. Such as sport. 

    “Cuban President Raul Castro, who welcomed the Pope at the airport, sat in the front row for Mass”

    ## Despite Castro minor being a Communist (which is incompatible with Catholicism – Pius XI called Communism, but not Freemasonry, a “satanic plague” ) & an oppressor of the Church. Giving comfort to persecutors is based on what morality precisely ? Certainly nothing resembling Christianity.

  • aearon43

    ‘ And that part can be played by anything.’

    Really? … ANYTHING?

    So would you say that someone who thought Lady Gaga was the pinnacle of music is justified in thinking so, as long as they believe themselves to be happy? My dog is happy, too. I actually don’t see the word ‘happy’ mentioned in the article. What it says rather is, ‘Apart from God, we are alienated from ourselves.’ Similarly Lady Gaga fans are alienated from music.

    As for Raul Castro, when you enter a country, it’s in keeping with decorum to respect its leaders. I don’t think this amounts to giving comfort to them — if anything, it gives comfort to Catholics to show that the state willing to listen to the pope. Can’t you imagine anti-Catholic hardliners furious at Raul for accepting an invitation to sit in the first row?

    There has been some controversy around Benedict not meeting with dissidents. But would that really help the situation? Let’s say he didn’t allow Raul Castro into Mass, but instead seated all of the dissident leaders in the front row. Apart from showing disrespect to your host, wouldn’t that just be more fuel for the fire of anti-Catholicism? Wouldn’t that be just another reason to clamp down on the Church? Don’t be a naive idealist.

  • ForsythiaTheMariner

    The Pope didn’t say religion was necessary to life, but that God was. He said 
    “When God is set aside, the world becomes an inhospitable place for man.”

    He didn’t even say “when God is unknown” but rather when God is “set aside” referring, I believe, to those who know God and deliberately reject Him.

  • Diane1522

    Can I ask, if your not a religious person why then are you reading the CATHOLIC herald? I’m just interested…….

  • Parasum

    “ANYTHING ?”

    ## That’s right – anything. If someone preached the supreme value of venerating “The Lord of the Rings”, and its inerrancy and inspiration, and could persuade a “critical mass” of people of the surpassing excellency of the whole legendarium, and the value of imitating the example of Frodo & Co., you would have a group of people whose existence was taken up with the legendarium, for whom it played the same function as Christianity does. It would not be difficult to “prove” the inerrancy of Tolkien’s text, using the arguments of Christian apologists. What matters in practice, is not truth, but whether people are convinced.

    Myths – in the sociological sense – are narratives that account for a society’s
    position in the universe. Christians have one myth, Muslims another, Marxists another, ad my hypothetical group another. They need not be historically true – they do need to have explanatory power. As long as there is no collision,or (what amounts for practical purposes to the same thing), no collision is perceived, between “explanation by Tolkien” & “explanation by archaeology” (say), Tolkien’s story’s account of the Flood is acceptable – and so is what archaeologists say. A Tolkienian apologist might try to reconcile the two by saying that archaeology talk of the Flood from one POV, and Tolkien from another. Alternatively, if Tolkien’s legendarium  is regarded as totally inerrant, the different Flood-narratives can be regared as different traditions, one Elvish, one human, or as two Elvish traditions composed at different theological stages.

    Point is, that the intellectual operations many Christians perform to preserve the inerrancy of the Bible or of the Magisterium, often by harmonising texts, are not confined to theology, & are not even specifically Christian. They prove only that the apologists are ingenious – but they do not prove that apolgisrs are right in their reasonings. As the variety of explanations for specific details & incidents shows.

    God in the Bible is as much a literary construct as Tolkien’s Eru Iluvatar – it would not be logically impossible to equate his Ainur & Maiar with angels. God in the Bible is as much a literary character as any other deity in a text – there is no way to show that God is real, and that Marduk (say) is not. We may intend to  pray to the Biblical God – but for all we know, the Biblical  God could be an alias for Marduk,or some other deity. Assertions to the contrary within the Bible prove nothing – any more than the assertions of Allah in the Koran prove anything. Allah may not like the like doctrine of Trinity, but that does not bother Christians. 

    If something – Lady Gaga, Marxism, Tolkien, “Star Trek”, something else – satisfies people enough & appeals to their personality in enough ways, and has sufficiently explanatory power, they will be able to live by it. It may have difficulties, intellectual &  historical & moral, & others; but if there are ways to resolve or lessen these difficulties, their myth (in the sense mentioned) will satisfy them. So if someone is quite happy as a Jedi Knight – as some people are – Christian evangelism will need to have an even greater appeal to them, than what they already have. Why bother with Jesus, if Mister Spock seems more admirable ? This may seem a trivial point, but it’s not:the Church will get nowhere fast, if it ignores the fact that a lot of people don’t need God or Christ, are very happy without Him, & have beliefs which they find quite adequate for them. A lot of them were miserable as Christians – & have found happiness by recovering from Christianity. If people were unbelievers but respected Christianity, they would not talk of its god as a “Skyfairy”. What bothers me is that the Pope is taking far too much for granted – I very much want to be wrong on this. 

    “Can’t you imagine anti-Catholic hardliners furious at Raul for accepting an invitation to sit in the first row?”

    ## Yes, I can. That does not alter (1) the inconsistency between how the Pope behaves & how some US bishops treat certain Catholic politicians (2) the fact that the CC has frequently and vociferously & clearly condemned Communism. If the Pope doesn’t want to send mixed signals, why does he deliberately go to a Communist country ? Pius XI did not compromise himself – why must these Popes do so ?  (3) When did the Pope ever care what his critics say ? If he can say what annoys gays or women or Muslims or Anglicans – why can’t he do likewise with Communists ?

  • Parasum

    “What it says rather is, ‘Apart from God, we are alienated from ourselves.’”

    *Anything* can function as God functions functions for Christians. I could say, with as much justification as you, that people are alienated from belief in Aslan, but don’t know it. In the meantime, God is their Aslan-substitute. The Biblical God is unsatisfactory, and the “real” God is not terribly active: I dare say the “god” of Elijah who allegedly answered Elijah when Baal did not  answer the prophets of Baal would hasve been appreciated by the Jews during the Shoah. But no, the Saviour of Israel, their Rock, their Strength, their Fortress, turned out to be on sabbatical.  That is the trouble with “God” – he doesn’t do what it says on the tin. No wonder most Jews are atheists – they have every reason to be.

    There are thousands of difficulties like this. Lady Gaga may be a rather limited deity, but at least she appears to exist. God is just a label we give the “whatsit” that we find makes us – for the time being – happy. But when that “whatsit” turns out to be unsatisfactory, as it always does, we should look elsewhere. So God is no more adequate than Lady Gaga – less so, in some respects. What we need is something that does satisfy us – and it needn’t be, & often won’t be, the Christian God. God is no more satisfying or adequate than anything else. He doesn’t live up to his billing. Christians have died horribly at the hands of Christians. The Crucifixion is too easily interpreted as bad luck – that it has a Christian interpretation, tells us nothing about what it means, but only what some Jews thought it meant. And a delusion is a delusion whether one or twelve or twelve billion people believe it. Christianity gives us no facts – only interpretations.

    If people can be happy with subjective belief in a God who cannot be proved to be rightly-labelled – assuming this God exists at all – then people can be happy with different furnishings for their subjectivity. The Jews got by (& and manage quite  happily) without being Christians; their non-Jewish neighbours had gods who were enough for them; the Greeks & Romans had their philosophies. The ideas that people need to  be Christian, & that it is any more objectively adequate than any other set of ideas, are hogwash.  

    “Don’t be a naive idealist.”

    ## I thought Popes were meant to be uncompromising opponents of oppressors of the Church, regardless of the cost. Obviously the Pope objects to relativism only when people he does not approve of do it. What a pity Benedict XVI lacks the courage of a previous German Pope, St. Leo IX. Or of some others, who said what needed
    to be said even though it cost them their lives. If English Catholics can be required to oppose a Queen’s religious policy, regardless of the cost to themselves, a Pope, whose circumstances are so much easier, can surely show the same courage. He makes demands of others he does not make of himself.
    If by “dissident leaders” is meant, “those Catholics who are opposed to the Castro regime”” – for them to be present at Mass, since the Mass is a Catholic rite, seems entirely right. But to suck up to their oppressors is a disgrace. To let such a person sit in a place of honour is appalling. The Mass is a religious rite, and the Church is ***forbidden*** to show favouritism to the wealthy – &, by extension, the mighty. Doesn’t the Pope know that God is not impressed by earthly power, but dwells with the humble & poor ? Castro & the Pope are worth no more than anyone else.  Abraham calls himself “dust and ashes” – what is an oppressor of the Church, compared to him ? So it is absurd & disgraceful that some ridiculous nobody who is an enemy of the Church should be treated as though he were worthy of an honour. The only people worse than he are bishops who collaborate with him.

  • Parasum

    See my two posts above. The Pope is mistaken.

  • aearon43

    You’re missing an essential point. Yes, of course many different philosophies and religions can provide meaning. Of course Catholicism doesn’t deny that psychological fact. What Catholicism argues is that whatever truth or goodness you might find in any philosophy ultimately derives from God, who is the source of all truth — Logos. 

    Catholics believe that Catholicism represents the best attempt yet to honor and serve God. God is the ultimate source of human fulfillment and flourishing, not the Church itself. So when you say, ‘why do I need God, I already have this thing (say Buddhism or science)?’ Well, I’d say maybe that thing comes from God, too, but in an imperfect or distorted way. (By the way, did you know Tolkien was a devout Catholic?)

    It’s important to be objective. That a miserable Christian became happy after repudiating Christianity doesn’t show Christianity to be false. Christianity doesn’t promise happiness, but rather the truth and salvation of souls — Logos.

  • aearon43

    In my experience, God as fulfilled his promises. But, he is not our servant, he doesn’t knock on our door every morning and say, ‘Need anything today, Parasum?’ He respects our freedom and prefers that we come to him. He promises to protect our souls from demons and Hell if we follow his law. That’s all that’s promised, really, not a life of happiness and ease.

    As I said above, Judaism and Greek philosophy are not totally wrong. That’s not what the Church teaches. There is certainly much of value to be learned by studying the Torah and the Greek and Roman philosophers, and Catholics have a great deal of respect for both traditions. They are, though, only right to the extent to which God has permitted them to be so, and also incomplete without Jesus, the Logos made flesh…. as for the pope’s visit to Cuba. First, please keep in mind that Benedict was invited to Cuba by the Castros. He was their guest. Remember, Jesus ate and drank with sinners, he did not scorn or embarrass them. Second, any overt collaboration with dissidents could have the opposite effect of what you seem to want. What do you want, is it for Benedict to put on some ‘heroic’ theatrics, or is it to actually improve the lives of Cubans? Any attempt to ‘meet force with force’ would only have resulted in greater suffering for ordinary Cubans. Benedict is an 84-year-old scholar and teacher, not a warrior. And if you read his homily in Havana he made it quite clear that the Cuban regime needs to change. Maybe it was too academic for you, I do appreciate that critique but I’m not sure it is exactly wise or fitting for him to assume the role of leader of the Cuban movement for liberty. That has to come from the Cuban people themselves. Here are his words: http://www.ncregister.com/blog/popes-homilies-and-addresses-in-cuba-full-texts

  • Jae

    How certainly sure you are not mistaken too? Your arguments are old tired ideas that has been rebutted all over the Internet, whether debates between famous atheist here and renown agnostic there.

    Why don’t you just believe in whatever you’re not believing, I guess you just believe in yourself for believing in nothing.

  • carol sheridan

    I am a devout atheist – I read The Catholic Herald so I know what the church is doing. I keep hoping to read that the hierarchy who failed to report crimes of sexual abuse to the civil authorities are truly repentant and that victims will no longer be forced to go through the courts for compensation.

  • Diane1522

    Why do you atheists pull this out the bag time and time again. Don’t you get we live in a worl full of evil, perverts are everywhere and may I add 9 out if ten are within close families, I know I’m a victim. The hierarchy as you put it did do wrong to cover up but that as a converted Catholics with four young children have had more fear of a certain family member whom I got no compensation via the courts, he got no jail term no nothing! I have no fear whatsoever for my children where priests are concerned because I am a part of the reality of abuse and I knw that the devil and his demons lure their way into ALL mankind and if the man or woman is tempted to do evil and commit a mortal sin then on their head be it. I find it very sad that you read the catholic herald for that purpose! What do think the church is about, have you studied theology? It’s the police and the law that enforces a process as no accused is guilty until proven so we don’t live in the middle east. So therefore why dish out compo? Money for one does NOT heal and I was relieved to the core I did not receive dirty money for a crime against me as a child. As for being atheist I’m going to pray for you, being athiest doesn’t mean you won’t be a part of the judgment, do you not worry about your final day? Morbid as it sounds and I pray it’s a long time away but it does come…..would nt you rather know that the light awaits? What do you think occurs for mankind men women and children, death …just death no light no heaven no hell for the evil …..think about it carol. Jesus loves you, he loves us all and he is the Shepard and unless you become like a child and put your trust in him he can’t force you to believe but we are his sheep, he came not to judge but to save and teach, teach us to repent and believe …..I know what I believe. God bless carol

  • John Byrne

    The government of Communist Cuba (or, more accurately today: “the government of the more-or-less Communist Cuba”) is a fine example of an institution trying hard to “bite the bullet”  (the “bullet” that it has known for quite a long time that it has no option but to catch in its teeth).
    In one respect it is unlike part of the Catholic Church, but in another respect very like another part of the Church.

  • Tchailoro

     There was a time when a son criticising his father for all he has done to him, for not been there for him when he needs him. that is not because he hates his father but because he is dying for his father’s anttention and love. that is apply to everyone in everyday live. Those who usual criticise other s is because they love them and they want other to do better. the fact is, those Atheist are same people created in God’s image. the problem is they are lost, their soul is dying for love and hunger of God that is why so amny of them criticising others particularly the RCC the communion of saints. my advise is, don’t worry Bro’ and Sis’ the door is open and the RCC is more than happy to welcome you in this communion. who doesn’t want to welcome his/her lost Bro’/Sis? we all do want you come home. God Bless You All. God Bless the Pope.