By Almudena Martínez-Bordiú
Pope Francis welcomed the president of Cuba, Miguel Díaz-Canel, first secretary of the Communist Party who was reelected president last April 19, to the Vatican on June 20.
The courtesy visit of the Cuban president, who was accompanied by his wife, Lis Cuesta Pedraza, began at 9:50 a.m. (local time) and lasted about 40 minutes. After the meeting with the pontiff, Diaz-Canel was received by Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin.
The Vatican reported that during the brief conversation, the pope and Díaz-Canel spoke of the importance of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Cuba, “evoking the historic visit of St. John Paul II in 1998, of which it is the 25th anniversary.”
The two discussed the situation of the country “and the contribution offered by the Church, especially in the field of charity.” They also touched on some international issues of mutual interest “and stressed the importance of maintaining the commitment to always promote the common good.”
The president gave the Holy Father a silver and bronze sculpture titled “The Reader” and two books by Cuban poets: “Las miradas perdidas,” written by Fina García Marruz, and “La luz del imposible” by Cintio Vitier.
In return, Pope Francis gave Díaz-Canel a bronze work of art depicting a dove carrying an olive branch with the inscription “Be messengers of peace.”
He also presented him with this year’s Message for Peace, the document on human fraternity, and a book on the Statio Orbis of March 27, 2020.
Díaz-Canel, committed to the ideas of his predecessors Fidel and Raúl Castro, will also meet at the Quirinale with Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.
Afterward, he will travel to France to participate, together with other leaders, in the world summit promoted by French President Emmanuel Macron to elaborate a “New International Financial Pact.”
On July 11, 2021, after more than six decades of oppression by the communist dictatorship implanted by Fidel Castro in Cuba, crowds of Cubans came out to demonstrate in the streets throughout the country demanding a change of regime.
Díaz-Canel responded to the demonstrations with violent repression, ordering the brutal beating of demonstrators and arresting political prisoners
In anticipation of the president’s visit to the Vatican, some Cuban citizens demonstrated on the Via della Conciliazione, the wide street leading up to St. Peter’s Basilica.
The demonstrators carried a sign that read: “Respect for human rights in Cuba” and lamented that this meeting with Pope Francis will be “instrumentalized” by the communist regime.
In anticipation of this meeting, 11 political prisoners wrote a letter from prison in Cuba addressed to Pope Francis asking for their release.
Cardinal Beniamino Stella, who was sent to Cuba in February to celebrate the 25th anniversary of John Paul II’s visit, expressed that Pope Francis wishes for the release of the young people detained for demonstrating in the streets of Cuba in 2021.
This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.