Fidel Castro, the Marxist revolutionary who later in life acknowledged that he was deeply influenced by Catholic teaching and welcomed a succession of popes to Cuba, has died at the age of 90.
Despite carrying out repressive measures against the church in the wake of the Cuban Revolution, and then being excommunicated, Castro saw himself as leading a struggle with some of the same noble aims as those of Christianity — including humility and concern for the poor.
“I believe Karl Marx could have subscribed to the Sermon on the Mount,” he said in a long interview with a Brazilian priest published in 2006. But he added that the historic Catholic Church had been used “as a tool for domination, exploitation and oppression for centuries.”
The following is a timeline of key religious events in Castro’s life:
Aug. 13, 1926 – Fidel Castro is born into a moderately affluent family of sugar-cane plantation owners and baptized as a Roman Catholic. His father, Angel Castro, was a self-made immigrant from Spain who had married his maid, Lina Ruz, and had seven other children.
Fidel Castro attends Catholic elementary school and graduates from Belen, a Mass-every-morning prep school in Havana run by Jesuit priests.
Castro would say later that the faith offered at Belen was “very dogmatic” and describe himself as having been a restless student. Nonetheless, he said Jesuits “influenced me with their strict organization, their discipline and their values … They influenced my sense of justice.”
1959 – Castro takes power by leading a Marxist revolution. He bans religious celebrations, closes down more than 400 Catholic schools, including Belen, seizes church properties, and jails and expels Catholic priests.
1962 – The Vatican, which had excommunicated all Catholics involved with communist groups in its 1949 Decree Against Communism, adds Fidel Castro to the list of those ejected from the church.
1976 – A decade and a half after the revolution, Cuba adopts a constitution which declares the country to be an atheist state.
1991 – Castro has the constitution amended to redefine Cuba as a secular state. The Communist Party allows religious believers to become members.
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SOURCE: Religion News Service