In just a few weeks Pope Joseph Ratzinger will arrive in Cuba but we are already breathing something of his incense from a distance. In a country where many of those who pray in the churches by day light candles at night to an African deity, the visit from His Holiness awakens enthusiasm, but also curiosity. The Catholics are preparing their liturgies and their pomp to receive Benedict XVI, while others wonder if his arrival will bring some significant transformation in the political or social situation of the nation. People want to believe that the Holy Father will push the reform process of Raul’s regime, driving it toward greater speed and depth. The most imaginative even dream that the highest figure of the Vatican will achieve what the popular rebellion should achieve: real change.
There are too many differences between this month of March in which his Holiness will land at the Havana airport and that January of 1998 when John Paul II did so. He, who was also known as the “Traveling Pope,” came preceded by stories relating to the fall of the regimes of Eastern Europe. Ratzinger, for his part, will arrive at a time when there is an entire generation of Cubans born after the fall of the Berlin Wall who don’t even know the significance of the initials USSR. At the end of the nineties Karol Wojtyla lit up our hearts – including those of agnostics like myself – saying the word “freedom” more than a dozens times in the Plaza of the Revolution. But now the apathy and discouragement will make it more difficult for the phrases of Ratzinger to inspire the same emotion. His visit will be but a pallid reflection of that other, because we are no longer the same, nor is it the same Pope.