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2Review Of Vartholomeos' Visit To Cuba

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    Jan 30, 2004
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      2004.01.28 MPA:

      REVIEW OF VARTHOLOMEOS' VISIT TO CUBA

      Istanbul, 28 January 2004 (22:16 UTC+2)


      A formal invitation will be extended to Cuban leader Fidel Castro to visit Mt. Athos, by Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomeos, in his letter thanking him for the warm welcome during his historic visit to Cuba, which opened up new horizons for Orthodoxy and Hellenism, both in this island country of the Caribbean, and throughout the American continent.

      In a discussion with the press shortly before the landing of the "Olympic Airways" flight in Istanbul, the Ecumenical Patriarch mentioned the unexpectedly warm welcome he received from the Cuban government and its President Fidel Castro, as well as the pressures of the US.

      "The Americans cannot be pleased, but we are not a party, we are not an ideology", pointed out the Patriarch, asking those who continue insist on the embargo against Cuba: "What did the poor do, what did the children do, so as not to have medicines", asked the Head of Orthodoxy.

      Mr. Vartholomeos observed that the role and mission of the Patriarchate place it above ideologies, political confrontations and quarrels.

      The welcome in store for the Head of the 300 million Orthodox Christians around the world by the Cuban government, but mainly by the Cuban people was staggering. The President of Cuba met with the Patriarch 7 times, had three private meetings with him, accompanied him to the airport in his car, and expressing views that were unimaginable by outsiders for an unyielding Marxist revolutionary such as Fidel.

      It is indicatory that Fidel Castro acted outside protocol and went to the "Park Central" hotel, where the Patriarch was staying, in person in order to see him off at the airport.

      Another characteristic was the warm way in which the Ecumenical Patriarch was received by the Cuban people, in a country which until recently included a mere handful of Greeks and Orthodox Christians. In all of his Holiness' public appearances, hundreds of citizens, some of whom bore small flags with the Patriarchate's symbol, flooded the streets in attempts to shake and kiss his hand, while there were cheers of joy and gratitude for the support of the Patriarchate to Cuba at this difficult turning point in its history.

      According to statements of the public, they expect a lot from the Ecumenical Patriarch and Greece, not mere financial aid, but help with ideas, because it seems that Cuba is at the beginning of impressive openings. Evidence of this opening can be found both in the wish expressed by Fidel for books on Mt. Athos and Orthodoxy to be sent to Cuba, in order to be distributed to the country's schools and foundations, and in the invitation for the foundation of Theology School of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Havana, with the expenses to be covered by the Cuban State.

      The success of Vartholomeos' visit to Cuba becomes even greater if one takes into account the intense pressure from the US initially to call off the trip, "so that moral support is not given to dictator Castro", as was the message from many sides. This was followed by attempts to downplay the trip and finally, on the eve of the inauguration of the St. Nikolaos' church, to implicate the Patriarch as an official invitee of the Cuban government, in an antigovernment event, regardless of the organizers' intentions and the just demands for the release of political prisoners expressed by their relatives and the officials of the Cuban opposition.

      During an opening ceremony of a Greek artwork exhibit, the Patriarch stressed that the Cuban people has the right to freely develop relations with all other peoples. Cuba must be allowed to breath freely and develop commercial and cultural relations with all other members of the international community, he added, stressing that the lifting of the embargo this year, when the Olympics are to be carried out in their birthplace, Greece, would be a good symbol.

      It should be pointed out however that in his speeches in Cuba, in the presence of Fidel Castro, the Head of the Orthodox Church did not stop repeating the need to respect human rights and religious and civil liberties. His most noteworthy speech was at the opening of the church of St. Nikolaos in Havana, where he underlined that "the free expression of religious faith, is a basic human right, which along with all other human rights, must be respected and inviolable, especially by those who have humanism as the basis for their ideology". Further along his speech, with Castro by his side, Mr. Vartholomeos underlined that the church of St. Nikolaos will send "a message of respect towards the human face and its rights, its freedom, its dignity, its right to disagree, its inviolable right to life".

      The results of this significant visit will soon be seen and we expect impressive moves by Fidel Castro, in the spirit of his discussions with the Ecumenical Patriarch, best of which would be a general amnesty and the release of all political prisoners.
       
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