Pope going to Cuba: Atheist Castros praise Christian values

Baptized as Roman Catholics and educated by Jesuits, Fidel and Raul Castro turned against the Church by declaring Cuba an atheist state, chasing out priests and shutting down religious schools after seizing power in a 1959 revolution.

In their old age, however, they have brought the Church in from the cold and are gracious and experienced hosts for regular papal visits.

When Pope Francis lands in Cuba on Sept. 19, he will be the third pontiff in a row to visit the Communist-run island.

His three-night stay highlights the new relationship between Church and state in Cuba and a marked softening of the Castros’ stance toward the religion they grew up with and then fought.

In return, the Church has become less confrontational and it played a major role in securing last year’s rapprochement between Cuba and the United States.

It still wants the return of Church properties occupied after the revolution but it has adopted a strategy of maintaining a fluid dialogue with the government rather than risking conflict.

Fidel Castro, 89 years old and retired, has repeatedly praised Christian values and counts as a close friend the Brazilian priest and intellectual Frei Betto.

Raul Castro, 84 and his brother’s successor as president, has gone even further, opening talks with Church leaders inside Cuba and making concessions such as freeing dozens of political prisoners and allowing religious processions. Continue reading 

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