Pope: Protect the ‘smallest’

Story highlights

  • Pope Francis is on a three-day trip in Cuba
  • Earlier on Sunday, the Pope met with former Cuban president Fidel Castro

Speaking spontaneously to a group of Cuban nuns, priests, seminarians and bishops, Francis said that “Jesus shines” in the lives of neglected and marginalized people, like those who suffer from degenerative diseases.

Francis also referred to prenatal testing that can “forecast” illnesses in the womb, leading some parents to “return it before it comes into the world.”

The Pope, who is in Cuba until Tuesday afternoon, said he wanted to speak off-the-cuff in response to two “prophets,” who spoke before him Sunday evening. One was a nun who works with severely ill children.

In the prepared remarks that he did not deliver but said will be published shortly, the Pope compared communities that don’t argue to an old couple who have lost interest in each other.

“Conflicts and disagreements in the church are to be expected and, I would even say, needed,” said the Pope, who is in Cuba until Tuesday afternoon. “They are a sign that the church is alive and that the spirit is still acting, still enlivening her.”

Such sentiments are sharp break from Francis’ papal predecessors — Saint John Paul II and Benedict XVI — both of whom discouraged dissent within the church.

Francis’ comments come as the Catholic Church is holding a fierce debate over several controversial issues, including whether divorced and remarried Catholics should be able to receive Communion. Earlier this month, Francis made it easier and cheaper for Catholics to annul their marriages, leading some American conservatives to accuse him of “vandalizing” the sacrament.

In October, the Vatican will host a large meeting of top bishops to discuss challenges facing modern families, including annulments and outreach to gays and lesbians.

5 key questions about the Pope’s trip to America

Earlier on Sunday, Pope Francis met briefly with former Cuban President Raul Castro, then held a longer meeting with his brother, current President Raul Castro.

On Tuesday, Francis will fly to Washington, the first stop on his three-city trip to the United States. In a prominent sign of the disagreements among American Catholics Rep. Paul Gosar, a Republican — and Catholic — from Arizona, said he plans to boycott the Pope’s speech to Congress.

“When the Pope chooses to act and talk like a leftist politician,” Gosar says, “then he can expect to be treated like one.”

Other Catholic politicians, such as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is running for president, said the Pope was wrong to help broker a diplomatic detente between the United States and Cuba.

“The fact is that his infallibility is on religious matters, not on political ones,” Christie told CNN’s Jake Tapper.

Pope Francis’ schedule for U.S., Cuba

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