Pope's Cuban Recognition Problem

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HAVANA: Pope John Paul II finds himself in an unusual situation as he gives his first mass in Cuba today: TIME correspondent Tammerlin Drummond says many Cubans aren’t quite sure who he is.

“After more than 30 years of official atheism, and with very little access to information, many of the people welcoming the Pope were not believers,” says Drummond. “Castro had given them the afternoon off and urged them to come out and greet the pontiff. They were there out of a sense of duty to the revolution.” An unusual scenario indeed, particularly in light of the media-driven perception of the Pope as anti-communist crusader who would serve as a magnet for opposition forces. “Cuba is not Poland,” says Drummond. “The Church here was always associated with the rich, many of whom went into exile in Miami. It’s never been a Latin American-style ‘church of the people.’ ”

Combine that with the fact that the dominant form of religion on the island is Catholicism’s Afro-Cuban alter ego, Santeria, with which the Cuban church hierarchy has an uncomfortable relationship, and the Pope has his pastoral work cut out for him.