Fr. Leahy Returns From Cuba

By Michael Seele
Chronicle Editor

Upon his return from Cuba earlier this week, University President William P. Leahy, SJ, said he was impressed with the Cuban people's interest in religion and said it may be time to re-examine the American embargo of the island.

Fr. Leahy was among a contingent of about 150 religious, political and business leaders from the Boston area who traveled to Cuba with Cardinal Bernard Law last week for the visit of Pope John Paul II.

Others traveling in the delegation included congressmen William Delahunt, Joseph Moakley and James McGovern; Boston College Associate Trustee Peter Lynch '65; and BankBoston Vice President Ira Jackson, among others.

The Boston delegates were among the 500,000 attending an open air Mass celebrated by the pontiff on Jan. 25 in the Plaza of the Revolution in Havana. Among other activities, the group celebrated Mass with Havana Cardinal Jaime Ortega at the Church of Jesus in Miramar.

Fr. Leahy, who returned on Monday, said deteriorating housing, food shortages and limited medical supplies were obvious, but so was the outpouring of affection for the pope, and the renewed interest in religion by ordinary Cubans.

"What most impressed me was the impact of the papal message and presence on the Cuban people," Fr. Leahy said. "I was very impressed by the fervor and jubilation of the Cuban people. Many of them stopped us and asked for medals and rosaries after the Sunday Mass, and wanted us to sign their Mass program. Clearly, from what I saw there is a great deal of interest in the Church, and there is a type of faith that still remains in Cuba, even though the Church has been largely suppressed for the past 40 years.

"It seems to me that the people of Cuba identified with Pope John Paul's own personal frailties and health problems, and that they saw him as someone who understood their own struggles and hardship."

Given Fidel Castro's apparent relaxation of restrictions on organized religion, Fr. Leahy said a re-examination of the American embargo may be in order.

"It strikes me as appropriate that we should re-evaluate the embargo and perhaps send some signals that if Castro will allow freedom of religion and establishment of Church-related schools, then the United States will relax the embargo on medical supplies, and maybe in certain other areas," Fr. Leahy said. "Castro allegedly said to four congressmen that with the pope's visit, the religious genie is now out of the bottle and can never be put back in."

-Mark Sullivan contributed to this story.

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