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A rather remarkable story posted at GetReligion over the weekend claims that Fidel Castro, a man who comes close to qualifying for the title of ‘eternal president’ of Cuba, will make a return to the Catholic Church during Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the island nation in March. The report, which appeared in the center-left Italian daily La Repubblica :

quotes an unidentified high prelate in the Vatican who is working on the Pope’s Cuba trip: “Fidel is at the end of his strength. Nearly at the end of his life. His exhortations in the party paper Granma, are increasingly less frequent. We know that in this last period he has come closer to religion and God.”

Some Italian websites have even speculated as to when Fidel will make his confession and credo — setting the date as 27 March 2012 at 17:30 when the two ottantacinquenni, Pope Benedict XVI and Castro, will meet at the Palacio de la Revolución when the pope makes his official visit to the head of state, Raul Castro.

As GetReligion notes, few American sources have picked up on the story, likely because it’s still in the ‘rumor’ stage. Nevertheless, as the report notes, Castro’s once-hardline stance towards the Church has been softening in recent years, beginning with Pope John Paul II’s 1998 visit to the country, when Castro attended a public celebration of Mass.

But an event like this, if it does indeed occur, would represent such a poetic, almost-unbelievable Medieval occurrence that it is bound to seem, to many of us in the first world, like some sort of political ploy or cynical biographical touch. Yet even if political motives figure in Castro’s decision (which they no doubt do to some extent), that should not necessarily not take away from the enormity of the event. A political leader’s conversion, especially one whose entire governmental philosophy has at its core atheistic materialism, has to be scrutinized for the public effect it will have. In Castro’s case, it is difficult to conceive how the effect would be anything but an enormous positive for Cuba’s repressed Christian community.

First and foremost, of course, Castro’s reversion would be a stunning personal tale of sin and redemption, offering a powerful testament to the working of grace in the face of all obstacles. And, historically-speaking, it would only would it offer further confirmation of what the events of 1989 and 1991 told us: not only is communism dead, but, perhaps, ideology itself is crumbling in the face of a century of renewed religiosity. Here at the so-called ‘end of history,’ the one force which has outlasted manmade ideologies turns out to be one that had been most widely dismissed, reviled, and written off as impotent. Yet, like Henry IV coming in from the snows of Canossa, religion ultimately triumphed over the pride of a secular empire.

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