Pope's role on Cuba stirs ire
Catholics worldwide expressed pride, but some Cuban Americans say they feel betrayed.
MIAMI - The key role Pope Francis played encouraging talks between Presidents Obama and Raul Castro left fractures among his flock in South Florida, where many older Roman Catholics equate the Castro brothers with the devil.
Many Catholics worldwide have expressed pride in seeing Francis stirring hopes of progress in communist Cuba, but some Cuban Americans say their spiritual leader betrayed them.
"I'm still Catholic till the day I die," said Efrain Rivas, 53, a maintenance worker in Miami who was a political prisoner in Cuba for 16 years. "But I am a Catholic without a pope."
Rivas said he cried when Obama surprisingly announced a reversal of a half-century's efforts to isolate Cuba. Then, when he learned of Francis' role, he got angry.
Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski acknowledged that some Catholics are "concerned or suspicious," but said many more exiles welcome the breakthrough, despite their suffering.
"The pain is real, but you can't build a future on top of resentments," Wenski told the Associated Press in an interview.
The Vatican has been reaching out to Cuba at least since Pope John Paul II, who declared during his historic 1998 visit to the island, "May Cuba, with all its magnificent potential, open itself up to the world, and may the world open itself up to Cuba." Discussions continued under Pope Benedict XVI, who visited Cuba in 2012. And Francis, the first Latin American pope, has advocated for an end to the U.S. embargo since participating in John Paul's visit to Cuba as the soon-to-be-named Cardinal of Buenos Aires.
Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega, who is close to Francis, set up the papal visits and has been decisive in improving ties between the church and the officially atheist state since becoming Havana archbishop in 1981. This frustrates some older Catholics who wanted the church to use its unique position inside Cuba to take a harder line.
"The church is contaminated," said Miguel Saavedra, 57, a Miami mechanic who leads an anti-Castro group.
Exiles incensed by the diplomacy openly wonder: Was Francis strong-armed by President Obama? Does he understand how terrible the Castro brothers are? Was he making a foolhardy bid to cement his change-making image?
"I don't know what the pope was thinking," said Jose Sanchez-Gronlier, 53, a lawyer who said he was persecuted for his faith until leaving Cuba as a teenager, and will never forget watching the government seize a convent near his childhood home. "I see a certain naivete in the pope," he said.
Sen. Marco Rubio, a Cuban American from Florida who has led the Republicans' criticism of Obama's executive actions on Cuba, also took a swipe at the pope, telling reporters in Washington that he would "ask His Holiness to take up the cause of freedom and democracy."
All this is familiar territory for Francis, who has spent a lifetime navigating the after-effects of the Cold War in Latin America.
U.S. bishops also have long called for an end to the embargo and for improved relations with Cuba. Engagement can do more than isolation to open up Cuban society and improve human rights and religious liberty, they said.