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Monday, December 5, 2016

December 4, 2016: Del Rio News-Herald * OPINION * Letter to the Editor * How Christmas celebrations returned to Cuba

Letter to the Editor, 

How Christmas celebrations returned to Cuba

Recalling Pope John Paul II’s visit to Cuba in January 1998, Joaquín Navarro-Valls, who was Pope John Paul II’s spokesman and Director of the Holy See Press Office, shared this in an interview with the Italian daily newspaper La Stampa

Navarro-Valls revealed that John Paul II had been sending delegates to Cuba for a decade. The Pope was eager to visit the island but he still hadn’t received an invitation. Finally, in November 1996, Castro came to Rome for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) meeting; he was received in the Vatican and formally invited the Pope.

Navarro-Valls explained how they prepared for the visit: “We worked for the whole of 1997 to organize it. Three months prior to the visit, in October that year, Navarro-Valls went to Havana and met Castro. It was a long six hour meeting that ended at around three in the morning”.

Navarro-Valls explained to Castro that now that the date of the visit was set, for January, 21, 1998, it would be important for it to be a great success. “Cuba needs to surprise the world,” Navarro-Valls told Castro. Castro emphatically agreed. So Navarro-Valls divulged about some of the surprises the Pope was expecting. He asked Castro for Christmas, which was just around the corner, to be celebrated as an official holiday for the first time since being banned by Castro’s communist regime in 1969.

Castro said it would be very difficult as Christmas fell right in the middle of the sugar cane harvesting season. To which Navarro-Valls responded: “But the Holy Father would like to be able to publicly thank you for this gesture once he lands in Havana”. After a long discussion, Castro finally said yes, although he did add; "But it could be for this year only". All Navarro-Valls said was: "Great, the Pope will be grateful to you for this. And as for next year, we’ll see". 

And to this day, Christmas is still celebrated as a public holiday in Cuba.

Marian Casillas, Ed.D.

Del Rio