“The Last Time the Pope Came to Cuba"
By Jenny Penz The papal jet descended onto the tarmac with a pomp befitting its circumstance. The world was in turmoil and this pope had come to save it -- melting polar caps and stormy climate change and poverty and empty pews and all. His Holiness had begun a world tour and what better place to launch a World War III rockstar pope tour than the last bastion of socialism, the tiny emerald island nation of Cuba.
Dignitaries, mostly believers in Santeria and/or Socialism, along with black robed members of the remaining Catholic hierarchy, streamed to meet the Collegial Pontiff and help him disembark from His Holy Vessel. A bustle of activity ensued. Speeches were made. Hands shaken. Pictures taken. The Caribbean sun beat down strong on the Holiness’ pale pink scalp, covered with a silken skull cap. It was time to go to Vespers.
The besieged Pontiff set off in his Popemobile Fiat, newly streamlined and toned down for the struggling masses. He circled the streets of Habana Vieja with its brightly painted buildings and throngs of curious look seekers. Cubans who had probably only stepped foot inside a Catholic Church once -- if at all -- that year mobbed to greet this rockstar Pope who spoke to the world’s poor, en español not yanquinglés.
The Papal procession arrived at La Catedral de la Virgen María de la Concepción Inmaculada de La Habana where His Holiness was to administer Vespers. Five hundreds years had pockmarked its stone facade yet the cathedral towered impressively against the bluest sky one could imagine. A low level militante del Partido at the back of the roped off masses from the crowd yelled “Welcome Potato” in English. Giggles rippled like waves around her before she was shushed by her comrade. “Hay que tener respeto, Caridad…” “Y Por que? El es hombre como cualquier otro...”
The Pontiff smiled waving to these same masses and entered the hallowed hall lined with gold artifacts of bygone days of the Church’s grandeur. He walked to the altar in a steady but papal pace and began the services as the Faithful (and mostly not so Faithful) sat down in unison in the lines of finely polished mahogany pews.
Like quicksilver, a sliver of an old woman dressed in tattered rags, stepped into the aisle from her pew in the back. At first no one took note of her, small and shriveled as she was. Oh but a queer thing happened as she proceeded down the aisle toward the altar. Each line of pews she passed she grew taller and her clothes turned from rags to iridescent blue and white garments, flowing like waves behind her.
By the time she reached the altar, the Pope could no longer remain oblivious to her, despite his aging sight. Before him and his entourage of priests was a Black woman of indeterminate age, radiating both youthful strength and age old wisdom. She seemed to ride on the waves of her dress, undulating like the sea.
“Padre, me conoces?” she asked, silvery light streaming from her mouth as she spoke, enveloping her head in a halo moon cloud.
The Pontiff dropped to his knees, stammering with fear and adoration. “Si, mi Madre, you are the Virgin Mother of Relga. Pero Dios Mio, I had never thought to see you while yet I had breath in me.”
“Father, you may know me as Virgin Mother, but I am also Yemeya, Mother of the Oceans. And I am here to tell you that you must be more righteous.”
“Oh but Mother, have I not be far more righteous than others of the Vatican? Have I not fought for the poor and wretched of this earth?” said the old man, ashen and trembling.
“Yes, that’s nice but we all know why you’re doing that. The Catholic Church’s market share is dwindling quite frankly after centuries of moral squalor and decades of modern day scandals with theft, child abuse and a host of other immoralities. Let’s be honest Father. Your dear Vatican is a den of iniquity. It’s time you begin to right centuries of wrongs.”
“Yes Holy Mother of God. Blessed are you amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb--”
“You can cut that out Padre. Yemaya has a different storyline. I am queen of the seven seas, my womb is the oceans that connect us all on this planet and so I am Mother to us all. My waters are rising Pontiff. You must warn your followers and even those with money and power that if they continue to do nothing, my waters will swarm the lands of this earth and destroy them all. Go tell them this, good errand boy.”
With this, Yemaya disappeared in a spray of salty sea water, wetting the whimpering souls kneeling before her.
The Pope was shaken but not without pride, he arose and continued the Vespers, urging those in attendance to heed the Virgin’s words of warning.
The next day His Holiness flew to the other end of the island. He was to give Mass at the Cathedral of Nuestra Señora de la Caridad del Cobre. He was still recovering his footing after his vision of the other Virgin. What did today’s Mass hold in store?
As he ascended the altar in the gilded cathedral, its rafters dripping with gold, its stained glass resplendent with every color on earth, rich incense floating in clouds through its lofty heights, the icon of the Virgin encased in glass behind the altar began to move. With a swift kick, the Virgin Mother cracked her glass prison, stepped out and began to twirl as the congregation, Pope and priests, all dropped to their feet.
When she stopped, she had grown to be a tall, shapely young Black woman, wearing the finest silken sunflower yellow garment. She tilted her head back and laughed and from her throat emanated beams of golden light that encircled the crowd.
“Padre, me conoces?” she asked, smiling. “Si, mi Madre, you are the Virgen del Cobre, pero you are not as I had imagined you.”
“Bueno, you don’t have much of an imagination do you Padre?” laughed the goddess. “I am Ochún and I am here to tell you of the power of Love.”
“Oh but Virgin Mother, do I not speak of love over and beyond all other Popes who have come before me?” said the Pope, his voice quivering.
“First of all, I ain’t no Virgin and secondly, all you do all day long is denounce those who do not follow Capitalism’s dictates of what a family should be. What about the many types of families that humans have created over time beyond the nuclear family? What about the many different forms of Love? Same sex love? Non-married love? What about sex for that matter? Sex and all forms of love should flow freely, not be bound by your pseudo-moralistic confines.” she admonished, with a sway of her hips.
“May you go forth and preach the virtues of free love and a multiplicity of families!!” the goddess commanded and with a brilliant flash of rainbowed light, she was gone leaving behind only a trail of honey that covered the worshippers. The Pope and the others could not stop themselves from licking it off themselves and each other.
After his run in with Ochún, the Pope began behaving very differently and the world took note. His popularity soared, as he began to preach a much more inclusive Gospel. He rescinded his previous anti-gay and anti-trans statements and begged forgiveness as he next landed down in the very Belly of the Beast: the Good, Old US of A.
The Pope was having a very good time, drawing huge crowds of worshippers and making Very Big, Important People cry. He was beginning to think he had his shit together.
But then he arrived in California. He went to minister Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. He arrived to meet the usual throng of supporters. Pushing through the crowd was a little girl, who jumped from the barricades into the Popemobile on the Pontiff’s lap. He smiled sweetly at the child.
“Dear child, what is it you wish to say to your Father?” he whispered in her ear.
“Padre! I’m here to tell you that you have to atone for your Church’s sins! They have not been pardoned because you have not sought forgiveness!” And with that the child transformed into a Coyote the size of a human man.
The Pope leaped to one size of the more streamlined, less pompous Popemobile. “What, who are you? a Demon?!?” His Holiness sputtered.
The Coyote cackled and pointed at the cowering Pontiff. “Hah! Yes you like to call us demons and savages to make us your slaves!! No, I am no Demon, I am Coyote of the Ohlone people! And you must seek atonement for your Church’s genocide of my peoples!”
“But….Coyote...surely you know that I have apologized for the grave sins of the Church in respect to the indigenous peoples of this hemisphere.” the Pope said rather defiantly.
The Coyote stretched out his great claws and bitchslapped the Pontiff. “Hah! You call that atonement?! And yet you canonize here on our ancestral land a murderer! I’m not talking about asinine apologies and facile homilies, Father. We want reparations! We’re talking repatriating the land and wealth you stole from us and the sons and daughters of Africa!”
And with that the Coyote sealed the Popemobile and threw it to the sky. He shapeshifted with the Pope, exchanging DNA, cellular structures that had the trauma of genocide writ like edicts on microscopic walls. The Pope screamed with a pain of centuries. The Fiat whirled like a carousel on speed, making the Pontiff so sick he begged the god to release him.
“Go Father, and tell your Masters at the Vatican to give back their wealth to the peoples they stole it from!” And with that the Coyote disappeared and the Popemobile crashed to the ground.
The Pope was rescued from his Fiat with the help of dozens of security service agents and retired to his posh suite at the local finest hotel. He poured himself a stiff drink and sunk down into a richly upholstered chair. He was beginning to doubt so much of what his Church teachings had instilled in him.
His Holiness began to change A LOT. He stopped wearing the fine silk Papal robes and instead went about in a friar’s frock, tied with simple twine. He started not just calling on the Rich to give to the Poor, but demanding it. He even worked with some Venezuelan hackers to break into the Vatican’s accounts and redistribute the Church’s wealth to the poor people in all the nations the Catholic Church helped colonize.
Meanwhile, the One Percenters of the World began to worry. It was one thing to talk about being nice to poor people. It was quite another to question the very structures of Capitalism, White Supremacy and actually go about getting reparations. If the Pope was willing to give away the trillions amassed by the Catholic Church over centuries of colonization and neo-colonization, what would His Holiness expect them, the Rich, to do?
The One Percenters were onto him and they pressured the Vatican to put a hit on the Pope. Searching the world for a safe haven, he decided to go to Ireland, where a convent of the most devout nuns were rumored to live on the banks of the river Shannon. Surely they would hide His Holiness.
The nuns greeted him warmly and ushered him into the hidden cellar of the convent. They gave him simple bread and water and there he stayed for weeks while the world wondered where the Pope had disappeared to.
One day he could stand the dark, dank conditions of the convent cellar no longer and he ventured above ground, wandering along the shores of the mighty Shannon. He walked peacefully through a meadow in which every herb, plant and flower seemed to bloom in the most perfect sunshine of God’s creation. He picked a lovely sprig of thyme that had just flowered and bent his head to smell it.
The sprig of thyme tickled his nose and he laughed. Then the thyme laughed and said “Do you know me Father?”
Startled, the Pope dropped to the herb to the ground and it sprouted and bloomed into a beautiful young Irish maiden with long flowing red hair and a coat of multi-colored plants woven together.
By this time, the Pope was rather used to being accosted by random Gods that were somehow still circulating despite his Church’s best efforts to eradicate them. Wearily, he replied “No, I don’t.”
‘I am Sionainn, goddess of wisdom and I am here to tell you--”
“Listen, I don’t mean to be rude,” interrupted the Pope. “But I’ve done everything you Gods have asked of me and well you see where it’s gotten me, on the run, hiding like a rat in the sewer.”
“‘Tis true Father,’ laughed the goddess. “But I’m not asking you to do anything. Just to tell you that there will be a great uprising not long from now. The poor will finally unite and overthrow the One Percenters and the Earth will be free of Capitalism and begin healing after centuries of abuse. So you see, you can die happy.”
“You mean I will not live to see--”
With that a sniper’s bullet put an end to the Pontiff’s life. The CIA made it look like an Islamic Fundamentalist had killed him, but we all knew better.
The headlines across the globe read in various languages: “The People’s Pope Is Dead.” The militante in Havana who had yelled Welcome! picked up a Granma newspaper and wrapped her vegetables from the market in it. “Potato,” she said wistfully, her fingers caressing the holy face printed in smudgy ink on thinning newsprint.
It was the last time a Pope ever came to Cuba.