Fr. Michael P. Orsi
November 30, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — Fidel Castro’s death has sparked a debate — and no small amount of confusion — within religious circles, particularly among Catholics. Many people who have witnessed the joyous reaction in south Florida’s Cuban exile community are put off by the celebrating, even as they scratch their heads over the praise heaped upon a brutal dictator by world leaders.
The words of the Pope have not eased their conflict or clarified their thinking. It is expected that Francis would pray for the Cuban nation at this moment, or send a formulary telegraph to President Raúl Castro offering condolences on “the death of your dear brother.” But to frame his message as a statement of his own personal grief stirs up questions about the Holy Father’s ideological convictions that have dogged him since ascending to the Chair of Peter.
What are we to make of it all?
Lauding the murderer of thousands and persecutor of Cuba’s Catholic Church as “the George Washington of his country,” as did ABC News’ Jim Avila, is patently absurd. Yet, neither is it appropriate for people of faith to rejoice over death — even the death of a man’s whose deeds were monstrous.
On the contrary, we recognize that even the most wicked among us possess their immortal souls. And we’re taught, by both Scripture and the Church, that God wishes all souls to be saved. To know that, at the end of his life, Fidel Castro repented and opened his heart to Christ would be a cause for praising the Lord’s mercy. It would give us reason to hope for our own salvation, because we are surely all sinners, even if our sins are not as extreme or notorious.
Of course, we cannot know what was in Castro’s heart as he was about to step before the judgment seat, and it is not for us to determine the disposition of his soul. But we can assess his deeds within the context of history. And there we find a picture that hardly warrants the tributes being offered so volubly.
It is true that, under the corrupt rule of Fulgencio Batista, the mass of the Cuban people suffered extremes of poverty and injustice. And there’s no denying that the Batista regime was maintained through the support of American corporations, the U.S. Government, and organized crime.
But if revolutionary change was justified, when it eventually came, the hope of betterment in Cuban life was extinguished quickly. Instead of freedom and opportunity, Castro brought the iron fist of Communism, prompting a flood of refugees, and putting his country at risk of annihilation during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Neither was he content to oppress his own people, but rather became the sponsor of Marxist revolutionary movements throughout Latin America and a surrogate for Soviet aggression in Africa.
And so one can understand the joy of Cuban exiles at this development. These are people who risked much and lost more. The price paid for freedom in America is apparent in even the second or third generation of Cuban-American families.
It is not for me, a lowly priest, to instruct the Pope. But I would have preferred that he make a clear distinction in addressing the death of Fidel Castro. I would have wanted him to say that, while it is good to celebrate the end of evil, the final assessor of our lives is God.
And I would have hoped that, like John the Baptist calling Herod Antipas to account for his sins, the Pope could have addressed himself to the conscience of Fidel’s brother Raúl, Cuba’s current leader. It might have been extremely helpful — for the future of the Cuban people — to point out that Fidel’s death underscores the limited time we’re all given on Earth.
Raúl still has a chance to set right what his brother got so wrong, at least some of it. And given how quickly time passes, and how we’re all ultimately called to account, the sooner he gets started, the better.