Cardinal Bevilacqua To Join Pope In Cuba

Posted: December 17, 1997

When Pope John Paul II arrives Jan. 21 in the fiefdom of Fidel, Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua of Philadelphia won't be far behind.

Bevilacqua and other United States cardinals will join the pope in Cuba for a trip that lasts through Jan. 25. The historic visit grew out of a Vatican meeting last year between the pope and President Fidel Castro.

Bevilacqua doesn't expect to take in many of the sights on that long off-limits island where Castro has sought to shut down the Catholic church since seizing power in 1960.

``I'm sure we will not see anything a tourist would,'' he said in an interview. ``But it's always a great thrill to see the crowds that come out for the Holy Father.''

For the globetrotting pontiff, Cuba is the last Spanish-speaking nation in the western Hemisphere he hasn't visited.

For the cardinals - Bevilacqua expects up to a dozen U.S. cardinals to travel to Cuba - ``it is a role of presence. It is giving support to the Holy Father and support to the church in Cuba by the church in the United States. That symbol is very important,'' he said.

As Castro eases off on his church-bashing, the pope is making another foray into a communist country to rekindle spirituality.

``Nobody knows what to expect,'' the cardinal said, but added that after John Paul visited his homeland in Poland and other dictatorships, ``significant things happened.''

Bevilacqua has no separate itinerary, and plans to have no Philadelphians accompanying him, although cities such as Miami and New York with large Cuban-American populations may send delegations. He said he'll probably accompany the pope's day-trips from Havana to Santa Clara, Camaguey and Santiago de Cuba to concelebrate Mass.

One small problem: Bevilacqua doesn't have his visa yet. He said he doesn't expect a problem, but so far he's not alone.

According to a report in the Miami Herald, only one Honduran monsignor among all the cardinals, bishops and other church dignitaries expected to join the pope has received a visa.

Bevilacqua will be a day behind the pontiff because, he said, U.S. cardinals will participate in a Jan. 22 pro-life demonstration in Washington. It's the anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.

Bevilacqua just returned from a month at the Vatican attending the Synod of the Americas for hundreds of North and South American bishops.

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