Cuban hopes for the papal visit

In early June, the distinguished Catholic editor Dagoberto Valdés Hernández, a leader of the Cuban democratic opposition, gave a lecture at Georgetown and reprised its main points later that day at the National Endowment for Democracy (on whose bipartisan board I serve). Mr. Valdés has thought long and hard about the challenges of democratic transition in Cuba, and about the role the Catholic Church should play in building a post-Castro future for that island prison. Thus his hopes for what Pope Francis might accomplish in his September visit to Cuba (prior to his pilgrimage to the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia and his stops in Washington and New York) are worth pondering – not least because they likely reflect the views of many faithful, pro-democracy Cuban Catholics.

The first hope, he said, is for a genuinely pastoral papal visit that encourages the Cuban Church, and indeed all Cubans, that a better future is possible. This first hope includes a further desire: that the Church offer itself as a mediator for what Mr. Valdés nicely called “the restoration of democratic relations between the government [of Cuba] and the Cuban people.”

The second wish is for a visit with a new take-away quote for everyone to remember. The 1998 the take-away, from John Paul II’s homily at his Mass in Havana, was “Let Cuba open itself to the world and let the world open itself to Cuba.” That’s fine, Mr. Valdés said, but John Paul II’s dyad should now become a “trinity:” “Let Cuba be open to all Cubans!”

The third hope is that Pope Francis will encourage the people of Cuba to write their own future and be “the protagonists of our personal and national history.” That hope reflects the concern of Mr. Valdés, and others in the democratic opposition to the Castro regime, that the re-establishment of more normal relations between the United States and Cuba has become the occasion for a new, and false, messianism in Cuba: Here come the Americans, they’ll fix everything (a notion shared by at least some American business people, alas). In contrast to that false hope, Mr. Valdés, said, “The outcome [in] Cuba [should]…be determined…by the talent, entrepreneurial character, and civil and political responsibility of all Cubans.” A papal summons to that kind of commitment would help displace a false messianism about a “solution from outside,” while also addressing the ingrained, demoralizing despair that no solution from “inside” is possible.

Fulfilling these hopes will require the Pope and the Holy See to press the Cuban regime on several related fronts: the regime should open public life to the participation of all Cubans; it should recognize that religious freedom means more than permits for churches and freedom of worship; it should engage the independent associations of civil society as legitimate interlocutors about Cuba’s future, not as criminals to be jailed. In short, the regime should demonstrate a new commitment to being the servant of the Cuban people by taking take real, tangible steps toward establishing a legal framework for democracy, within which Cubans can work out their own destiny and take responsibility for their country’s future progress.

In order to do this, the reforming Pope Francis may well wish to break with the unfortunate precedents set during Benedict XVI’s his visit to Cuba in 2012. Then, Benedict was ill-served by a nuncio and an entourage that blocked his meeting with the democratic opposition and that let the Pope be maneuvered into a photo-op with Fidel Castro, which became the primary image of the visit. Thus, to take one obvious example, Pope Francis might meet and embrace the courageous Ladies in White, who, after Mass each Sunday, march in support of political prisoners, often their husbands or sons – and are not infrequently beaten for their pains by regime goons.

Cuba 2015 is not Poland 1989. Dreams of a fast-track democratic transition tend to obscure the hard work of reconstruction to be done. May September’s papal visit to Cuba strengthen a now-nascent Cuban civil society, which is the foundation on which that work can proceed.

COMING UP: Team Samaritan cyclist goes ‘Everesting’ for the homeless and hungry

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

When it comes to the daily sufferings of those who are homeless, there’s nothing like a 29,029-foot bike ride to keep things in perspective.

That’s exactly what Corbin Clement will be doing this Saturday, June 19, with a couple of his riding buddies as they attempt an “Everesting” ride to raise money for the Samaritan House homeless shelter in Denver. Starting at Witter Gulch Road in Evergreen, the three riders will climb Squaw Pass Road to a point in Clear Creek County and ride back down the hill for over eight laps, which amounts to roughly 190 miles in distance and the equivalent of the elevation of Mt. Everest in terms of vertical climbing – hence the name “Everesting.” Their goal is to complete the feat in 20 hours or less.

Oh, and they can’t sleep. It is, indeed, just as crazy as it sounds. Those who aren’t avid cyclists might be wondering, “How in the world do you train for something like this?” 
“For training, it’s been just more or less ride as much as possible,” Clement told the Denver Catholic. “The training is structured around endurance, and that’s of course what Everesting is. It’s just a lot of peddling. So, a lot of my training so far has just been trying to ride as much as possible and ride longer high elevation rides.” 

In March, an Irish cyclist set the world record for Everesting when he completed the feat in six hours and 40 minutes. Clement isn’t trying to set a record, but regardless, it’s quite a feat to undertake, even for a seasoned athlete like him, whose pedigree includes snowboarding and rock climbing. 

“Our ride will be the same thing, but it’ll be pretty different,” Clement said. “We don’t have any sort of special bikes or super focused diet or a really regimented plan or a crew that’s very well-instructed on how we’re going to tackle this. I’ve read a couple of things to just kind of make it into a party — have friends come out to support you, get people to join you on certain laps…that’s kind of the approach we’re taking.” 

Clement has already raised $5,200 for Samaritan House, with a current goal of $8,000. This is Clement’s first year riding for Team Samaritan, but his dad, Kevin, has ridden for the team for several years. When his dad offered to give him an extra kit and uniform, Clement accepted, but didn’t want to take it without doing something help the cause. He could’ve simply opted for a nice ride in the countryside, but he chose to do something a bit more challenging.  

Corbin Clement used to experience the challenges that homeless people face on a daily basis when commuting through downtown Denver to work on his bike. This Saturday, he will raise money for Samaritan House homeless shelter by “Everesting,” a 190-mile bike ride that is the equivalent of the elevation of Mt. Everest in terms of vertical climbing. (Photo provided)

“For some reason, the Everesting idea popped into my head,” he explained. “I think it’s one of those things that has a little bit of shock value for people who hear about it. It’s certainly something that’s gained more popularity and visibility in the last couple of years with endurance athletes. I wanted to choose something that would actually be a challenge for myself and something that I’d have to work towards.” 

Clement currently resides in Utah, but he used to live in Denver and commute by bike to work every day. During those rides to his office, which was located near Samaritan House, he would pass many homeless people and have conversations with them. This experience was also a motivating factor for his Everesting attempt for Team Samaritan. 

“It’s very different when you’re on a bike versus in a car because you’re right there,” Clement said. “If you stop at a stoplight and a homeless person is on the corner, whether or not they’re panhandling or something like that, you hear the conversations, or you’ll have a conversation with them. There are things you smell or you hear or you see that you just never would if you were in a car. So, it kind of made sense, too, with the biking aspect. It’s part of my community that I’ve lived and worked in for a very long time.” 

Clement’s Everesting attempt is one event in a series of endurance event’s he’s doing over the summer that culminates with the Leadville 100, a single-day mountain bike race across the Colorado Rockies. In that race, he will be riding to support young adults diagnosed with cancer by raising funds for First Descents.  

Both causes are near to Clement’s heart, and he said that while his Everesting attempt will be a form of “suffering,” it pales in comparison to what the homeless face day in and day out. This is ultimately why he’s riding and raising funds for Team Samaritan. 

“Any time we see a homeless person or people who have to live on the streets,” Clement said, “That is true suffering — true endurance — with no end in sight.” 

To learn more about Corbin’s fundraising efforts or to donate, click here.