By Fr. Jerry Pokorsky | Nov 28, 2016
God has given us an Advent meditation with the death of Fidel Castro, President of Cuba, politician, revolutionary, mass murderer. Here are examples of responses by world leaders:
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a statement hailed Castro as a “remarkable leader” and a “legendary revolutionary and orator” and warmly recalled his late father’s friendship with Castro… “It was also a real honour to meet his three sons and his brother President Raúl Castro during my recent visit to Cuba.”
President-elect Donald Trump condemned the late Cuban leader upon hearing the news:
The world marks the passing of a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades; Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights.
He might have added, but he didn’t: “Hell’s immigration policy is inclusive and non-judgmental. And Satan has an open borders policy, unlike the immigration policy of Jesus: ‘Enter through the narrow gate.’”
Several anti-Castro Cuban refugees abandoned all theological nuance, dancing in the streets with many tweeting, “I hope he [*]rot(s) in hell.”
Pope Francis in contrast sent his condolences to Fidel’s brother, Raúl:
On receiving the sad news of the death of your dear brother…I express my sentiments of sorrow to Your Excellency and other family members of the deceased dignitary, as well as to the people of this beloved nation….
Apparently there would be no prayers for the victims of the Castro brothers’ version of Communism, at least for now. Sometimes when dealing with an unleashed pit bull, for the sake of peace it’s better to say, “Good puppy,” rather than provoking it with a harsh, “Bad dog!” and a poke of a stick. (Of course Jesus had no such scruple when He called out the Pharisees as a “brood of vipers.”)
Years ago when visiting the home of a friend, I noticed a curious framed photo, initially thinking it was a scene from an old movie. My friend explained it was a picture of his grandfather entertaining Fidel Castro, Raúl Castro, and Che Guevara, a picture taken shortly after the revolution. Intrigued, I asked about the friendship.
My friend explained his grandfather was a ranch owner in Cuba who had known young Fidel for years. In an almost Scriptural way, Fidel had invited himself to the ranch for supper. Pleasantries were exchanged, a meal shared, and with his concluding remarks Fidel told his friend that the only reason the ranch owner and his family were not killed was because of their personal friendship. Nevertheless, Fidel warned, if the family didn’t leave immediately, they would all die. Undoubtedly there were many such accounts, usually not ending so happily.
History records Castro’s crimes: murder on the usual large Communist scale. So it’s fair to ask, before he died, did Fidel repent? Did he make any attempt to publicly renounce his evil? We do not know. Did Fidel call a priest to his bedside for a good confession as he lay dying? Same answer: at this writing, we do not know. Maybe Pope Francis knows that a priest was not called; maybe this failure is the cause of the Holy Father’s grief. Again, we do not know. Is there any other way Castro could have made it to heaven, or at least to the outskirts of heaven, Purgatory?
Dare we hope?
The same friend whose grandfather was expelled from Cuba told me that Castro, as a young man, was Jesuit-trained and a leader of a Catholic youth group. During a hike on a mountain in Cuba a tropical storm flared, causing very dangerous flash floods. Fidel led the Rosary and brought them safely home. The story may indeed be true. I am aware of a few contemplative nuns who knew the Jesuit priest who was the college chaplain when Fidel was a university student. At that time Fidel was a pious Catholic who prayed the Rosary regularly. After the revolution this priest always thought Fidel would come back to the Faith before he died.
So did Our Lady intercede on his behalf with the graces necessary for salvation? We will never know, of course, at least in this life, and it’s not for us to judge. Despite pious hopes, based on the public record, I’m not counting on it. And I’m not counting on it for purposes of my own soul. If we too readily assume an apparently—at least on the surface—unrepentant Communist tyrant and murderer readily entered into eternal bliss, we who are petty tyrants in our own way don’t have much to worry about.
Toward the end of the reign of Pope Paul VI, a papal secretary noticed the melancholy of the aged Pope. The Holy Father felt lonely because most of his friends had passed. The secretary, in an attempt to cheer him, said: “We know that God is so good that one day we will see all of our friends again in heaven.” Pope Paul responded as a Catholic with true Catholic sensibilities: “We must never presume the mercy of God!”
The Gospel for the last day of the liturgical year (Saturday) records these ominous words of the Lord: “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap. For that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth. Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man” (LK 21:34-36). The next day, the first Sunday of Advent, we hear: “… you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come” (MT 24:44).
The death of Fidel Castro is a warning to all of us to renew our resolve to live the Faith with integrity. Be prepared. And never presume the mercy of God.