Unprecedented chants for freedom, applause and cheers interrupted Pope John Paul yesterday as he harshly condemned the evils of both communism and capitalism at an extraordinary Mass in Havana's Revolution Square.
Chants of "Freedom, Freedom" rang out in the square, symbolic home of Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution, as the Pope called for religious freedom, slammed state atheism and castigated "capitalist neo-liberalism which subordinates the human person to blind market forces".
Watched by more than 200,000 people, including President Castro, the pontiff was repeatedly forced to stop his homily because of the crowd reaction.
When he called for freedom of conscience, "the basis and foundation of all other human rights", he was answered by the chant: "The Pope wants us all free."
The Pope cracked jokes to quieten the chanting. "I am not against applause, it allows the Pope to rest," he said on one occasion. During one of the interruptions, President Castro stood and smiled.
Well before dawn yesterday, thousands of chanting, singing pilgrims were already streaming down darkened Havana streets, one group bearing aloft a replica of the Sister of Charity, Cuba's patron saint, others banners of Jesus and the Pope. A 20-story-high icon of Che Guevara, the Cuban revolution's own secular saint, stared across Revolution Square in one direction. A newly painted image of Christ stared in another.
As the Pope and Fidel Castro arrived, cheering broke out. The crowd chanted, "Hear it, feel it, Pope John Paul is present."
Behind the wooden chapel where the pontiff delivered his address a huge mural of Jesus announced: "Christ, I trust in you" and on the other side of the square an equally huge portrait of Che Guevara carried the slogan "hasta la victoria siempre" (until eternal victory).
Communism is only one of the obstacles in the way of the Pope's struggle to win hearts and minds. There is also the powerful Santeria religion, a mixture of Catholicism and Afro-Caribbean spiritualism.
The Pope attacked "cults and spiritualism" - a pointed reference to the fact that the Sister of Charity, whom he crowned in a special ceremony yesterday, is also a major goddess of Santeria called "ochun".
But by extolling a key symbol identified with the Santeria church, the pontiff may end up strengthening that religion, not his. Santeria is deeply embedded in Cuban culture and, unlike the formerly persecuted Catholics, the regime has encouraged Santeria because its theology does not represent the kind of threat to the communist orthodoxy that Christianity does.Reuse content