Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Notable & Still Unforgettable: Pope John Paul II Praises Che Guevara

This week marks the 10th anniversary of John Paul II's visit to Cuba. I wrote many thousands of words on his visit at the time, and were I to go back and review them, I am sure that many of my impressions then are still of some relevance today. But what I remember most clearly were the few words that the pope devoted to Che Guevara. They proved to me, at least, that John Paul II was no saint and not much of a student of history either.

From the Osservatore Romano, Spanish edition, 30 January 1998, p. 6:

"Otra periodista le preguntó [al papa], también en castellano, por su pensamiento sobre Che Guevara, un protagonista de la historia reciente de Cuba, a lo que su Santidad contestó: 'Ahora se halla ante el Tribunal de Dios. Dejemos a nuestro Señor el juicio sobre sus méritos. Ciertamente, estoy convencido que quería servir a los pobres.'"

"A journalist asked [the pope], also in Spanish, his thoughts on Che Guevara, a protagonist in recent Cuban history, to which His Holiness replied: 'He is now before God's Tribunal. Let's let our Lord judge his merits. I am certain that he wanted to serve the poor.'"


Daniel @ Garanhuns said...

I think that statement can be "read" and "interpreted" several ways, much like the cartoon in Granma. You should also "allow for leeway", remembering the Pope speaks not only as the head of the Vatican as country, but for the Roman Catholic Church and for God (assuming one accepts the Pope continuing the line and work of Peter, etc,). Remember also that the Pope, as a man of the cloth, should not "judge from the pulpit". Now the very first part, I find nothing wrong with, and is very coded. "He is now before God's tribunal". This can be seen as a reference to the tribunal's Che made many man face. He is stating, all men will answer to the Lord, and could be inferring, as he did on earth, now the Lord does unto him. When he said "Let's let our Lord judge his merits.", the Lord is fair and just, and if one does have redeeming qualities, the Lord will take that under consideration when He passes judgment. I am not exactly sure if the Pope is allowed to state "This person was a sinner, and is burning in hellfire" with conviction. If, and I repeat IF, Che repented before his death, aren't we too believe he is accepted in to the Lord's graces? The Pope has to allow for an eventuality as that one. "I am certain that he wanted to serve the poor." is also open ended, or could be read as such. I am sure Hitler wanted the best for Germany, Pinnochet for Chile, etc. What the Pope said is nothing more than "the road to hell is paved with good intentions". Every body needs to measure their words, even the Pope.

Vana said...

Serve the poor, my ass, he was there to only serve himself, besides I'm sure che had to answer to satan, not to the Lord.

Manuel A.Tellechea said...


John Paul said that he was certain that Che wanted to serve the poor. Certitude admits of no doubts. How exactly does one serve the poor by making them poorer or killing them? Che Guevara was not only an atheist but believed and said that hate was the great engine of human progress, not love. How the pope could possibly suggest, as pope or as man, speaking for the Church or himself, that he was convinced that Guevara wanted to serve the poor, is beyond me.

I am sure that Che would have repented at the end if it would have spared his life. His greatest belief was self-preservation, that is, he wanted to live to kill another day.

If the pope had limited himself to the first part of his statement, he would not have sinned against truth. Che Guevara will stand, like every man, before the Last Judgment. This doesn't concern me in the least because he has already received man's justice on earth.

It may have been presumptious for the Pope to anticipate God's judgment on him, which, if God is just, can only be one. It was no less presumptuous and more offensive for him to plead Guevara's case.

Charlie Bravo said...

This would have been a much better answer: 'He is now before God's Tribunal. Let's let our Lord judge him"
The whole "merits" and "work for the poor" tirade actually made an uncomfortable, and unneeded, statement, instead of letting the ghost of the killer alone facing God or Satan, which is no doubt his case.

Mi Tres Cubano said...

I don't see the evidence here pointing to the Pope's acceptance of che. Wanting to do good is not the same as doing good, for as the adage goes: "the road to hell is paved with good intentions."

With that said, if I were to point out a fault in the Pope's statement, it is that instead of separating himself from political opinion, he made an ambiguous comment as to what he was certain of in che. He left his comment open for interpretation placing him on either side of the fence, that is, so as long as this phrase is taken at face value. I would have prefered a precise faith focused opinion, rather than a would-be political move to try to apease everyone on and off the island.

Charlie Bravo said...

Mi Tres, you explained better that I did....

Manuel A.Tellechea said...


John Paul II attributed good intentions to Che Guevara. In fact, he was "certain" and "convinced" of his good intentions. Martí also attributed good intentions to Marx in his much-quoted obituary of him. Both the pope and Martí were wrong in their assumptions. Martí, however, foresaw the nefarious consequences of Marx's "good intentions." The pope did not even acknowledge the real Che, which is not the aggregate of his "good intentions" but of his actions. Anyone who didn't know in 1998 that Che Guevara was a serial killer wasn't much of a student of history, which is the politest way to put it.

Agustin Farinas said...

I have to agree with Manuel on this one.
The Pope was not ignorant of political affairs, in fact he was a very educated person and having lived in Poland under communism had to have known about the first days of the Cuban Revolution when Mr. Guevara was in charge of the Cabaña fortress where all the shootings took place in early January 1959. This information was common knowledge for anyone who had read the news in those days about the goings on in Cuba.
While I think his position on the issue of Church vs. the Communist Party he was brave and spoke his mind in Poland, on this one issue, he stuck the proverbial foot in his mouth. Let us remember that Guevara was an active agent of the campaign against the Church and its followers in Cuba and the subsequent expulsion of all foreign born priests from Cuba.
Having been a member of the Church hierarchy of the Church in Poland, he could not have been in the dark about this particular fact of history. He have to had known about it.
But as he said, now he was in the court of God and it was up to Him to render his final judgement on Mr. Guevara. Hopefully he is in the same place where there is a hot room already reserved for Mr. Castro.