Cuba deal divides Florida Catholics
Miami — The key role Pope Francis played encouraging talks between Presidents Barack 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, a 53-year-old maintenance man 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.
Exiles incensed by the diplomacy openly wonder: Was Francis strong-armed by President Barack Obama? Does he understand how terrible the Castro brothers are? Was he perhaps making a foolhardy bid to cement his change-making image?
“I don’t know what the pope was thinking,” said Jose Sanchez-Gronlier, a 53-year-old 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.”
Arturo Suarez-Ramos, a 50-year-old Miami waiter who was a political prisoner in Cuba for 27 years, said Francis is reaching for more headlines after insisting that homosexuals and divorced people are welcome in church.
“He’s trying to get a legacy at any price,” Suarez-Ramos said.