[Marxism] Frei Betto: Encounters with Fidel

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Fri Aug 18 10:26:05 MDT 2006

Atheism is a philosophical stance held by people who do not believe
in any kind of supreme being as the source of human worldly life.
As we look at the world today, and particularly at the state of the
Middle East after the Party of God, Hezbollah, provided the state of
Israel with a lesson it won't soon forget, a thoughtful and nuanced
attitude toward religion and toward the religous faith of oppressed
peoples is an important intellectual and political responsibility.

Knee-jerk atheism is one of those religious faiths which are very
strongly practices in some of the more arcane corners of the left.
I'll never forget the way a group I used to belong to refused to
let a man named Norman O. back into membership after he'd spent
some time away, became a Muslim, as Malcolm X had done before him,
and changed his name to Mohammad O. This was many years ago and it
seems that campaigning against religion remains a preoccupation in
some circles. It's tiresome, since most people believe in one or
another form of supreme being. I'm not a religious believer myself,
but I find it not helpful to spend any time arguing over matters
which cannot be empirically verified, as faith-based conceptions
cannot be. This author, a practicing Roman Catholic priest, met
with Cuba's Commander-in-Chief twenty years ago and their talks
became the basis for a book published here in Cuba and still widely
in print. Fascinating information in this short article by Betto.

Walter Lippmann

August 14, 2006

A CubaNews translation by Ana Portela. Edited by Walter Lippmann
Encounters with Fidel 

I met Fidel in Managua, the night of July 19, 1980, during the first
anniversary of the Sandinista Revolution. Lula and I were at the home
of Sergio Ramírez when he arrived to meet with Nicaraguan
businesspersons. We greeted each other and he took refuge in the
library. It was two in the morning when Father Miguel D’Escoto,
Nicaraguan Foreign Minister, asked us if we were interested in
talking with the Comandante. The dialogue went on until six in the
morning, observed by Chomi Miyar watching the photographers and a
sleepy Manuel Piñeiro leaning over his thick beard that served as a
shield of a large unlit cigar. We spoke of religion. He asked me if 
I would be willing to go to Cuba and serve as advisor in the
reconciliation between the Government and the Catholic Church. 
I answered that that depended on the Cuban Bishops who, the 
following year, accepted the proposal.

In February of 1985 I came to Havana invited by Casa de las Americas.
On the eve of my return to Brazil, Chomi invited me to lunch at his
home. It was about midnight when Fidel arrived. We took up again the
subject of religion. This time he spoke for a long time about his
family and the Lasalle and Jesuit schools he attended.

I asked him if he was willing to repeat what he had revealed in the
small interview which would serve, in fact, as the basis for the book
I intended to write about the Revolution.

He accepted and we agreed to meet in May of that year.

I arrived on the agreed-upon date which coincided with the beginning
of the Marti Radio broadcasts. Fidel apologized and said that a new
issue prevented him from granting me time for the interview. Perhaps
another time. I felt like Hemingway’s fisherman in “The Old Man and
The Sea”. The “fish” had taken the bait and I couldn’t let him
escape. I pressed so hard that he asked me what kind of questions 
I had. I showed him the first of 64 that I had written down. “We start
tomorrow” he said, interrupting me. It became 23 hours broken up into
four conversations, in the presence of Armando Hart, which were the
basis for "Fidel and Religion" which had an edition of 1.3 million
copies in Cuba. It was released in 32 countries and 23 languages. 
In Australia, Ocean Press has published one in the English language.

In 1986 I arrived in Havana with a box containing 100 bibles in
Spanish, which were quickly run out due to so many requests from
Christians and communists. One afternoon, writing in my room, Fidel
arrived unexpectedly. I told him about the Bibles and he asked:
“Wasn’t one left for me?” I dedicated the only one I had: “To
Comandante Fidel, who is loved and believed by God”. He sat on a
wicker chair and asked: “Where is the Sermon on the Mount?” I marked
the versions of Mathew and Luke. He read them and asked, “Which of
the two do you prefer?” My leftist side spoke for me: “Luke, because
in addition to referring to good fortune, he also lists the curses
against the rich.” Fidel thought for a while and answered: “I
disagree with you. I prefer Mathew because it is more sensible”.

My parents had come to Havana with me. One dawn, around two in the
morning, the Comandante brought me home. He asked if “los Viejos”
were awake. I said no, but I could try to wake them. He objected
saying it was better for them to rest. “Comandante don’t think about
their sleep tonight. Just think that they can tell their
grandchildren that they were wakened at dawn by the man who led the
Cuban Revolution”. He was convinced and we went to wake my parents
and, sitting at the kitchen table, we had a long conversation lasting
well into morning. My mother, a culinary specialist, made breakfast.
The desert was Ambrosia, the nectar of the gods according to Homer in
the Iliad. The following morning, the chief of the guard knocked on
the door. “Madam, the Comandante wants to know if you have any of
yesterday’s desert left over”. My mother asked him to wait and in a
few minutes prepared the sweet made with milk, eggs and sugar.

In March of 1990, Fidel was in Brazil for the investiture of
president-elect Colllor. In Sao Paulo, he participated in a meeting
with more than a thousand leaders of the Ecclesiastic grass roots
groups. We ended with liturgical chants and all, holding hands,
prayed the Our Father. The Comandante squeezed my hand and, although
his lips didn’t move, I had the impression that there were tears in
his eyes.

In 1998, after the departure from Cuba of John Paul II, Fidel invited
a group of theologians to lunch in the Revolution Palace. He was
happy about the papal visit and expressed sincere affection for the
Pope. One of the theologians criticized the presentation of a gold
crown by John Paul the II to the Virgen de la Caridad whose value
could have been used to purchase medicines for children or something
like that. Fidel reacted strongly in defense of the Pope and taught
the theologian a lesson about the importance of the patron saint of
Cuba in popular religious belief. He had it coming to him. The
theologian was betrayed by his own words.

That is the Fidel that I know and who I learned to admire. I consider
him an older brother. During the interview he said “if some one can
make me a Christian, it would be Frei Betto”. Now, how could I hope
to evangelize a man who dedicated his life to love, heroically and
wholly, to the people of the Homeland of Marti? “I was hungry and you
gave me food,” Jesus says in the Gospel of Mathew (chapter 25, verses
31-44). If that is so, what can we say of a man who, like Fidel,
liberated a people, not only from hunger but also, also from
illiteracy, from mendacity, from criminality and submission to the

Happy Birthday, Fidel

Havana, August 13, 2006

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