WaPo: What the ‘Pope Francis Effect’ Hasn’t Delivered in Cuba

Sunday, October 11, 2015
From The Washington Post:

What the ‘Pope Francis effect’ hasn’t delivered in Cuba

Pope John Paul II's visit in 1998 put Christmas back on the Cuban calendar. When Pope Benedict XVI arrived in 2012, the Cuban government made Good Friday a national holiday. Both men brought the Catholic Church a bigger role in Cuba's public life.

Pope Francis? Well, maybe all the good holidays were already taken.

Two weeks have passed since Francis left Cuba, and there has been no sign yet that his visit -- and his rapport with Fidel and Raul Castro -- have led to any new concessions for the church.

Prior to Francis's arrival, the government said it would pardon 3,522 prisoners, a gesture also made during the two previous papal visits. But no announcements have followed.

"Nothing," said Havana religion scholar Enrique Lopez Oliva. "You'd think we would have heard something by now."

Francis praised relations between the Castro government and the Vatican during his visit, and his homilies addressed matters of religious liberty only in general terms. Yet Cuba remains the only nation in the Americas where the church cannot operate its own K-12 schools, and it's no secret the island's bishops want more access to the state-controlled airwaves.

In recent years, as the Cuban government's social safety net has frayed, the church has stepped in, opening day-care centers and health clinics and offering free English and computer courses, yet with little official acknowledgement.

One of the sites Francis visited in Havana, the Padre Varela Cultural Center, already operates as a small de facto Catholic university, leading to speculation that the government might finally give it formal recognition as such. But the pope's presence has brought no such political blessing, at least so far.

"We'll have to wait and see," said the Rev. Roberto Betancourt, the pastor of Our Lady of Regla church in Havana, one of Cuba's most important churches. "There are a few whispers in the hallways of possible announcements, but if something is forthcoming, it would have to be soon."