During a working breakfast of diplomats and journalists, held in Rome’s NH Hotel, further reflection was carried out on the communication and repercussions of Pope Francis’ apostolic journey to Cuba and the United States from September 19-27. The speakers were three journalists who travelled with the Pope: Valentina Alazraki of Mexico and Americans Frank Rocca and Alan Holdren. The meeting was organized by Mediatrendsamerica.com, together with the Spanish Social Foundation for the Promotion of Culture.
Mexican journalist Valentina Alazraki pointed out that Pope Francis’ trip to Cuba and the United States changed the way he is perceived. Before the trip, Americans saw him as a Pope that would condemn capitalism, the American system, while the Cubans saw him as a Pontiff that would support them in their egalitarian vision of society.
Everything changed after the trip, as the Pontiff focused on other subjects. “He called for religious freedom in Cuba and sparked great enthusiasm in the United States.” We though he would speak about the lifting of the blockade, about human rights, but he spoke about religious freedom and, during the whole trip, he “insisted on identifying what unites us and not what divides us.”
He did not pursue areas in which he might meet with confrontation. With a calm voice he sought conciliation.
“In regard to political repercussions on the subjects of migration and the death penalty, in general I am pessimistic, said the Mexican journalist, because a Pope’s influence has never changed the political agenda of a country.” I don’t see a political impact, but a moral one. When John Paul II attempted to halt Bush’s war, although he didn’t succeed, he unleashed a worldwide moral reaction.
“In regard to immigration, as a Mexican his meeting with migrants in Philadelphia caught my attention,” she said. The Pope asked them not to be ashamed, to lift up their head; you have contributed a gift to this country. I see an analogy with John Paul II, when he said in Poland may the “Holy Spirit come down and inundate … that is when the Berlin Wall began to crumble. Save your culture, Francis said to the immigrants, as John Paul II did to the Poles: save your Catholic faith.”
Another element, which was not planned, happened in Philadelphia during the World Meeting of Families, when the Pope met with five victims of paedophilia, because before he might have given the impression of being in greater solidarity with the Bishops than with the victims. He gave a very strong address, speaking also about bishops and their responsibility.
The Pontiff spoke about the defense of life, without using the words ‘abortion” and ‘euthanasia.’ He spoke of marriage between man and woman open to life, without mentioning homosexuality.
In regard to Cuban dissidents detained so that they would be unable to greet the Holy Father, Alazraki pointed out that the Nunciature in Cuba had been in contact by telephone with some dissidents who were told that if they were there when the Pope passed by he would greet them, but no such meeting took place.
There have always been questions on this issue, and we don’t know if there was a private meeting. “It might seem to be a weak point of the trip, although to carry forward the process initiated in Cuba was perhaps more important than having direct contact with them,” she said. No doubt there was an important reason and not a lack of attention. Let’s not forget that the Holy Father took Paul Richard Gallagher with him, who is the Vice-Secretary for Relations with States,” she concluded.
For his part, Alan Holdren pointed out that Pope Francis doesn’t say anything other than what the Church always says,” but “he poses things another way.”
However, the Holy Father did “speak with the Sisters of the Clinic who proffered conscientious objection regarding the Government’s contraceptive health policies” and, in the plane, he also reiterated “the right of freedom of conscience.”
Two days after his return, news and repercussions are still arriving, he said. For instance, the letter that Francis sent to halt the execution of a woman in Georgia did not work. He also pointed out the importance of the Pope’s being heard live on television, from the first to last word he spoke.
He also thought it was important that the Holy Father introduced himself as the “son of immigrants and brother of these people,” very important for Americans. Holdren added that in Cuba a woman said to him: “My daughter has never heard words like this — of reconciliation — in her life, which invite to dream without limits.”
For his part, American journalist Frank Rocca said that many thought “that the Pontiff was going to talk in these two countries as John Paul II did in Poland,” and it wasn’t like that, although “in Cuba he spoke of religious freedom” and in the United States he spoke “with nuns opposed to the government policies on contraception.”
He added that Bishops understood him, as did Havana and the White House, although he touched on subjects “almost without touching them.” If someone didn’t want to hear he need not do so, because “he encouraged without the need to shout things,” he said.