Cardinal Francis George visits Cuba
June 23, 2010|By Manya A. Brachear, Tribune reporter
Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George arrived by private plane in Cuba on Wednesday to meet with local Roman Catholic parishioners and pray at a shrine for the island nation’s patron saint.

Archbishop Dionisio Garcia Ibanez of Santiago, Cuba, invited George to his archdiocese after a visit to Chicago last year for a film premiere that raised money for humanitarian work in Chicago and Cuba.

George’s trip will include a Mass at the Santiago cathedral and a visit to the national shrine of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre. Catholic Cubans in Chicago celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Charity on Sept. 8, with Mass at St. Ita in Chicago, St. Lambert in Skokie and Sacred Heart in Melrose Park.

AdvertisementColleen Dolan, communications director for the Chicago archdiocese, said the timing of the cardinal’s visit had nothing to do with a recent five-day meeting in Havana between President Raul Castro and Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Vatican’s foreign minister.

The purpose of the visit is “not an analysis for the government life of the area,” Dolan said. “He’s interested in church life. There is a Catholic church in Cuba. That’s what he’s going to see.”

But in recent months, Catholic bishops have had a number of successful negotiations with the Cuban government. Mamberti, for example, did not meet with dissidents during his visit. And shortly after a meeting between Cuba’s Cardinal Jaime Ortega and Castro, Cuba transferred about a dozen political prisoners closer to their families.

Miguel De La Torre, professor of social ethics at Iliff School of Theology in Denver who specializes in Cuban religion and politics, said George’s 24-hour pastoral visit could carry long-term significance.

“It is up to the religious leaders to begin to deal with the Judeo-Christian issue of reconciliation,” De La Torre said. “One of the problems I have with the U.S. embargo of Cuba is it prevents U.S. citizens from mingling and talking to Cuban citizens. The quickest way to begin to melt this animosity is for the people to begin to talk to each other, and hopefully the government will be able to catch up.”