Marxism has long stood, and continues to stand, in opposition to the Christian faith. In systems of state communism, this opposition has manifested itself in the brutal suppression of the Church. Since 1989, however, this ideology appears to have been tossed into the trash heap of history, thanks in no small part to the contributions to St. John Paul II – a victory for freedom, a victory for justice, and a victory for the Christian faith.
“Showdown” between the Church and the Marxist regime
Only a few regimes stubbornly held on, even when it was clear that they were among the losers of history. One of them was the one in Cuba, a country whose background is decidedly Christian.
Joseph Ratzinger was always an “anti-Marxist”; it was Ratzinger who, as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the 1980s, issued a statement on behalf of the Church regarding “liberation theology” , correcting the this-worldly fixation present in some forms of Latin American theology.
It was for this reason that I was especially interested in the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the land of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. It was clear that here was the victor coming to the vanquished, and I expected a victory celebration, some kind of “showdown” between the Church and the Marxist regime.
Benedict XVI during his homily in the Plaza de la Revolución.
At least since the triumphant visit of John Paul II in 1998, it was clear that what Marxism had brought to Cuba was not equality, justice, and prosperity, but rather poverty and lack of freedom. It was not Christianity that gave “opium” to the masses – it was the revolutionary leaders Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, and his successors.
Yes, “Papa Ratzinger” came as victor, but “victory” means something quite different for Christians than it does in military, political, or other ideological spheres. And that is the most beautiful thing to learn from the German Pope’s visit to Cuba.
Two Popes, two teams, one scandal
Winning, of course, can “get ugly” very quickly. This is something I became aware of in the wake of a huge scandal that followed Germany’s 1-0 defeat of Argentina at the World Cup in Brazil. One reason why so many people found it so interesting that Germany and Argentina of all countries were facing other in the final was that the situation of having “two popes” was still a very new thing. The reigning Pope came from Argentina, of all places, and the Pope Emeritus was from Germany, so…
The scandal came about two days after the victory, when a triumphant victory celebration was held in Berlin at the deeply symbolic Brandenburg Gate. Six players from the national team performed a dance where they hopped forward while hunched over, singing “So gehen die Gauchos” (“This is how the gauchos walk”).
Triumph gives way to fiasco
The general public, even in Germany, were outraged. The “gaucho dance” was seen as a tasteless, even racist, mockery of the Argentines, turning German triumph into a public image fiasco. Regrettably, the whole world felt confirmed in their prejudice that one could admire “die Deutschen”, but never love them. The moral of the story is that victors should never mock their defeated opponents.
Seen in this context, Benedict XVI’s “victory celebration” in Havana on 28 March 2012  offers a bright and shining example of what “winning” means for Christians: This mass, attended by 300,000 jubilant worshipers, President Raúl Castro among them, really can be called a “victory celebration” in both the theological as well as the political sense. As Christians, we can indeed always count ourselves as winners in the spiritual sense: We believe in the greatest victory in human history – the victory of the love of God over sin, the victory of good over evil, of life over death.
Seeking the truth in the Plaza de la Revolución. Tens of thousands came to attend mass with the Pope.
Substance over mockery
Every mass, every liturgy provides entry into this space of victorious redemption, and this mass with the “anti-Marxist” Ratzinger as Pope was such a liturgy. Then came the Pope’s homily, which was indeed quite political. But what Raúl Castro heard was not bashing, not mockery, not triumphalism, but an attempt at interpreting the substance of the Christian faith: What concerns us is not “victory over enemies” but “victory for these very enemies”.
Seeking the truth in the Plaza de la Revolución
The homily in the Plaza de la Revolución is a typical Ratzinger text: Open reflection, thinking about and aspiring to what is ultimate, to what is better, what is true, etc. is good, for truth-seeking is a gift from God to everyone. We Christians walk this stage of the path along with everyone else. But in addition to that, we have things to offer, we have solutions, we have corrections to the ideologies that arise from man’s search for truth.
No, Benedict XVI does not attempt to butter up the obstinate political ideologues whose failures had turned their country into a poorhouse; choosing his words clearly and cleverly, he demands freedom, including religious freedom! And after the mass, Benedict visited Fidel Castro, frail with age, who had explicitly requested to meet with him.
Truth liberates, ideology enslaves.
Benedict XVI knows that the truth given to us by God sets us free, that it prevails over ideologies and intellectual fixations. It respects all thought that openly seeks the truth and meets those who seek it with humility.
Pope Benedict XVI knows that the truth given to us by God sets us free, that it prevails over ideologies and intellectual fixations. It respects all thought that openly seeks the truth and meets those who seek it with humility, even when they behave in ways that are aggressive and hostile towards the Church and the Christian faith  His remarks in this vein were not mere verbal compliments or the strategic use of friendly rhetoric concealing a deep contempt for the “defeated” Marxists.
What the Pope said in the Plaza de la Revolución was an expression of this great Catholic sense of humility. The more of a winner one is, the less one can get away with mocking the loser; we can see this even in the worldly realm from the “own goal” that the German team scored on themselves by making fun of the defeated Argentines (though they surely did not mean it that way). In terms of Germany’s image, the damage caused by the “gaucho dance” was much greater than the positive effect of Mario Götze’s winning goal.
The ‘enemies’ who kill Jesus are the very ones for whom he dies. The ‘enemies’ who hate Jesus are the very ones whom he loves. And the ‘enemies’ who accuse him are the very ones whose guilt he takes away.
In the Christian understanding of victory, there is no room for mocking one’s enemies. This is because the Christian faith actually knows no “enemies” to be defeated. At the very root of the faith, what we can say is that the “enemies” who kill Jesus are the very ones for whom he died. The “enemies” who hate Jesus are the very ones whom he loves. And the “enemies” who accuse him are the very ones whose guilt he takes away. This means that the only real “enemy” is ideology, ideology that ceases to seek the truth. But as long as man remains open and seeks after the truth, he is on the path to Ratio.
We Christians are not his enemies on this path, but his companions, for this path is made open to all mankind by God the Creator. Benedict’s political homily in Havana shines with the humility of a victor who is not concerned with “his” victory, with being right in the face of his vanquished enemy. And to me, this essential Christian humility shines all the brighter because it is expressed by and lived out by a Pope from Germany.
missio /Georg Wilke
The author, Fr. Karl Wallner, OCist., professor and Doctor of Theology, was rector of the Benedict XVI Theological-Philosophical University at Heiligenkreuz in Lower Austria. Wallner teaches dogmatics and sacramental theology at the university there. Since 2016, he has served as National Director of the Pontifical Mission Societies (“missio”) in Austria.
 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “Instruction on Certain Aspects of the ‘Theology of Liberation’”, 6 August 1984