In Mass for Cuban youth, pope faults U.S. embargo Young '' urged to shun 'moral relativism' and take on responsibility

January 24, 1998|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

HAVANA -- Pope John Paul II issued a stern denunciation of the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba yesterday in a letter to the nation's youth, calling such sanctions "deplorable because they always hurt the most needy."

The letter was released during a Mass dedicated to Cuba's youth celebrated in Camaguey, a city about 300 miles east of the capital. During his homily, which Pope John Paul read in slow, deliberate and sometimes slurred Spanish, he quoted the Epistle to the Romans in instructing the youth: "Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good."

The criticism of the trade embargo was expected during the pope's five-day visit to Cuba. Pople John Paul has spoken out against the embargo in the past, and repeated his opposition in a chat with reporters on the plane carrying him to Cuba on Wednesday.

The embargo against any U.S. trade with Cuba has been in effect for 37 years. The pontiff will address the embargo again in the remaining days of his visit, said Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls.

The Mass in Camaguey drew tens of thousands of Cubans waving a sea of paper Cuban and Vatican flags and responding to Pope John Paul's homily with chants like, "John Paul II, the whole world loves you!"

Pope John Paul, wearing gold and red vestments, sat in a large white wicker chair on the altar platform, set against a vivid magenta backdrop. In what has become a familiar collision of religious and revolutionary images, to the right of the altar was a bas-relief with the figures of Fidel Castro, Ernesto "Che" Guevara and other heroes of the Cuban Revolution.

'Moral relativism'

In his homily, Pope John Paul urged youth to avoid "moral relativism and the identity crisis which affects so many young people."

"Such moral relativism gives rise to selfishness, division, marginalization, discrimination, fear and distrust of others," he said. "Moreover, when young people live life 'their own way,' they idealize things from other countries, they allow themselves to be seduced by unchecked materialism, they lose their own roots and long for distractions.

"Consequently, the emptiness brought on by this behavior explains many of the evils which beset young people: alcohol, the abuse of sex, drug use, prostitution hidden under different guises the lack of a serious life project with no room given to a stable marriage; also the rejection of all legitimate authority, the desire to escape and emigrate, the avoidance of commitment and responsibility in order to seek shelter in a false world founded on alienation and annihilation."

To uphold Christian moral values, the pope said, "Christians sometimes have to suffer marginalization and persecution -- at times heroically -- because of the moral choices which are contrary to the world's behavior."

Pope John Paul said youths should not look outside themselves for answers to their problems. "Do not expect from others what you yourselves can and are called to be or to do," he said. "Do not leave for tomorrow the building of a new society in which the noblest dreams are not frustrated and in which you can be the principal agents of your own history."

Religious vocations urged

In his written message, the pope also called on Cuba's youth to answer the call to religious vocations. About half of Cuba's nearly 300 priests are foreigners.

"The church in your country desires to be of service not only to Catholics but to the whole Cuban people," he said.

He also urged the youth to "resist every kind of temptation to flee from the world and society."

"Do not take refuge in sects, alienating spiritualist cults or groups which are completely foreign to the culture and tradition of your country," he said.

This seemed to be an allusion to Santeria, a widely practiced mixture of Catholicism and African rituals brought here by slaves hundreds of years ago, which the church has criticized in the past.

The pope displayed flashes of humor, as he often does when he meets with young people. At one point, addressing a raucous group in front of him with a sign, "Mexico loves the Pope," he asked: "Are you Cubans who look like Mexicans, or Mexicans who look like Cubans?"

Toward the end of the Mass, the crowd chanted, "We see it, we feel it. The pope is here with us."

Pope John Paul, an impish smile on his face, replied: "I see it, I feel it, the sun is here with us."

Thoughts on politics

VTC Last night, Pope John Paul spoke to cultural leaders and academics in a ceremony in the Great Hall of the University of Havana, where the Rev. Felix Varela, the Cuban patriot priest, is buried. Varela, who taught philosophy at Havana's San Carlos Seminary, was an outspoken advocate of Cuban independence from Spain and denounced slavery. He was exiled to the United States in 1827.

"[Varela] was the first to speak of independence in these lands," Pope John Paul said in an address attended by Castro. "He also spoke of democracy, judging it to be the political project best in keeping with human nature, while at the same time underscoring its demands."

Pub Date: 1/24/98

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