By Nick Miroff,
HAVANA — Pope John Paul II’s groundbreaking trip to Cuba in 1998 made such an impression on the Rev. Jorge Mario Bergoglio that he wrote a book about it.
Bergoglio’s “Dialogues between John Paul II and Fidel Castro” was published that same year, just a few months after he was named archbishop of Buenos Aires. The book fell quickly into obscurity but since then it has led many to assume Bergoglio — now Pope Francis — was present in Cuba for John Paul II’s visit. He was not.
Before he lands in the United States on Sept. 22, Francis will arrive in Havana on Sept. 19 for a four-day, three-city tour of Cuba that will put a spotlight on his political and diplomatic skills as never before. His challenge: to accelerate the process of reconciliation between the United States and Cuba charted by John Paul II and push the Castro government to hasten and deepen the pace of change on the island.
On Friday the Castro government announced it would pardon 3,522 prisoners ahead of Francis’s arrival as a “humanitarian” gesture. The amnesty did not appear to extend to jailed political activists, but rights groups said they were trying to determine if any of their comrades would be freed.
[Cuba pardons more than 3,500 prisoners ahead of Pope Francis visit]
The government made a similar gesture prior to Pope Benedict’s 2012 visit, freeing nearly 3,000 inmates, and several hundred were released when John Paul II made his trip.
Francis’s book about that 1998 visit remains an essential window into the Pope’s thinking about the long U.S.-Cuba standoff and the broader ideological divide it came to symbolize in his native Latin America and around the world.
The book was critical of Cuba’s version of authoritarian socialism, but it echoed John Paul II’s call for an end to the punitive U.S. trade embargo. It urged dialogue instead, and the soft-landing approach famously expressed in John Paul II’s appeal for Cuba to “open itself to the world, and for the world to open itself to Cuba.”
Seventeen years later, that approach has become official White House policy — with guidance from Pope Francis.
The pope’s role as an intermediary and peace broker between the Obama …Read More
For Pope Francis, an unfinished mission in Cuba – Washington Post
By Nick Miroff,