Benedict XVI in Cuba March 26 to 28, 2012

Source: FSSPX News

During the day on March 26th, Benedict XVI left Mexico for the island of Cuba, and went to Santiago de Cuba, a port city in the southeast part of the island and the country’s second largest city with a population of 400,000. Fidel Castro  referred to the city as the “cradle of the Revolution.” 

The Pope's visit

On the tarmac of the small Antonio Maceo airport of Santiago de Cuba, and in the presence of  President Raul Castro, Benedict XVI said he was pleased to join in the joy of Cubans on the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the blessed image of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre (La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre). “I carry in my heart the just aspirations and legitimate desires of all Cubans, their sufferings and their joys, their concerns and their noblest desires,” he said.

Then the Pope added that he was “convinced that Cuba, at this particularly important moment in its history, is already looking toward the future and is striving to renew and expand its horizons, with the cooperation of the immense patrimony of spiritual and moral values which have shaped the nation’s true identity.” The Church, Benedict XVI assured, has diligently contributed to the promotion of those values through her generous and selfless pastoral mission, and “renews her intention to continue to work tirelessly to better serve all Cubans.” The Pope also spoke of the global economic crisis, which reflects “a profound spiritual and moral crisis, which has left man empty of values and defenseless before the ambition and egoism of certain powers which do not take into account the authentic good of individuals and families.”  Because, in contrast, “true progress requires an ethic that places the human person at its center and takes into account their most profound needs, especially man’s spiritual and religious dimension.”

On March 26, 2012, in the late afternoon at Antonio Maceo Square in Santiago de Cuba, Benedict XVI celebrated Mass before 200,000 faithful and in the presence of Cuban leader Raul Castro. In his homily in Spanish, after affirming that through Christ God had set his dwelling among men, Benedict said that in contrast, when God is “thrown out,” the world is transformed “into an inhospitable place for man.”

The Pope commenced, “Dear brothers, I know the efforts, courage and self-sacrifice with which you work every day so that, in the practical realities of your country, and in this period of history, the Church increasingly reflects her true face as a place where God comes near and encounters  people.”

After giving his assurances that the Church's mission was to open the world to something larger than itself, Benedict XVI encouraged Cuban Catholics to accept “with patience and faith whatever opposition or affliction may come,” with the conviction that in His Resurrection, Christ has vanquished the power of evil which darkens everything. “The obedience of faith is true freedom,” said the Pope, inviting the faithful to follow Christ without fear and without inhibition, to give a new enthusiasm to their faith.

On the morning of March 27, 2012, before leaving Santiago de Cuba for Havana, Benedict XVI stood in recollection before the statue of the Virgin preserved in the sanctuary of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre (Cuba), patroness of the island. Tradition says that in 1612, three fishermen gathered the wooden statuette of the Virgin and child abandoned a century ago by a native chief. She was proclaimed patroness of Cuba in 1916. This statue of the Virgin is kept at the shrine of the Virgin of Charity in El Cobre, an important pilgrimage site of Cuban Catholics.

 Havana was the last leg of Benedict XVI’s journey. Capital, port, economic and political center of Cuba, Havana is the largest city in the Caribbean (2 million). Visiting the Presidential Palace on March 27th  late in the afternoon, Benedict was received by President Raúl Castro. The two men met in private, assisted by a translator, for about thirty minutes. In a parallel interview, the Vatican delegation, led by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, met with Cuban Vice President Jose Ramon Machado Ventura.

Addressing the press, Fr Lombardi spoke about the content of the meeting between Benedict XVI and Raúl Castro. In particular he mentioned that during his conversation with the president, the Pope had “stressed the importance of Good Friday for Cuban Catholics, asking that the day be made a holiday.” The Vatican spokesman said the authorities' response would not be immediate. During his visit to Cuba in January 1998, John Paul II asked of Fidel Castro that Christmas Day be made a holiday, and in December of that year, the day once more became a holiday, 30 years after its suppression.

During the Mass celebrated at Revolution Plaza on March 28, 2012, before nearly 300,000 people alongside giant portraits of the two revolutionaries, Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos, Benedict XVI affirmed that “Jesus revealed Himself as the only One who can impart the truth and give authentic freedom. . . To deny this truth, as is the case with skepticism or relativism, causes a change in the heart, making it cold, hesitant, distant from others and locked away in itself,” he said, denouncing the attitude of “people who wash their hands and let slip the course of history without compromising themselves.”

Benedict XVI recalled the importance of the right to religious freedom, in both its individual and community dimensions, which manifests the unity of the human person as both “citizen and believer,” because believers should contribute to the edification of society. The Pope added, “His [the believer’s] reinforcement consolidates community life, nourishing the hope for a better world, and creates the conditions for peace and harmonious development, while establishing a firm basis for strengthening the rights of future generations.” You can also read : Visit of Benedict XVI to Mexico, March 23-26, 2012 The Catholic Church in Cuba