Ancient Warriors

Pope John Paul II and President Fidel Castro, after long and arduous negotiations, finally greeted each other on Cuban soil. There was something dramatic, even touching, in their meeting, ancient warriors engaged in battle, yet remarkably courteous and deferential. There were the small gestures: the increasingly frail pontiff was offered a vessel of Cuban earth to kiss in place of the airport tarmac; Mr. Castro helped the pope to a chair at the welcoming ceremonies; the two met privately at the Palace of the Revolution; Mr. Castro unexpectedly attended the pope’s Mass in Havana. Then, there was the larger point of the visit: disputation, indirect to be sure, but disputation nonetheless over moral issues of the kind that ought to engage world leaders about economic justice, the moral ordering of society, and religious and civil liberties. The pope told the Cuban people to become the "agents of their own history," and he urged Mr. Castro to free political prisoners.

Though his mentors in the Soviet Union have long since thrown in the towel, Mr. Castro clings to power over a miserably failed economy and an unraveling social fabric. His self-justifications to the pope-that they both care for the fate of the poor, that they both seek social justice, that the church of prerevolutionary Cuba was repressive and intolerant-had the effect of pointing to the injustices of Mr. Castro’s own government and an economy that...

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