Pope Francis exchanged a brief greeting Wednesday with Cuban dissident Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, in the Vatican at the end of a general audience held in St. Peter’s Square.
Soler is on a worldwide tour to publicize the plight of Cuban dissidents and to ask for moral and spiritual support to end repression in Cuba. The Ladies in White are a group of Cuban women who originally came together to march on behalf of their husbands and relatives rounded up during Cuba’s so-called Black Spring of 2003. After the men were freed, the women — who dress in white — continued to march on behalf of other political prisoners.
Soler handed the pope two letters from the wives of political prisoners, according to the French news agency AFP. Soler later told the media that the pope had given her a blessing and asked her to continue her fight.
During the visit of Pope Emeritus Benedict, then Pope Benedict XVI, to Cuba last year, the Ladies in White had asked to meet with him but were rebuffed — even though the pope took time for a meeting with former Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Prior to Benedict’s visit there also was friction between dissident groups, who wanted the church to take a more activist role in addressing their concerns, and Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega.
The Ladies in White met with Ortega last June and asked for his help on two fronts: interceding on their behalf with Cuban leader Raúl Castro in the face of stepped-up repression against the group and to pass on their request for an audience with the pope.