By Araceli Cantero Guibert
HAVANA, MARCH 1, 2012 (Zenit.org).- In a message to all Cubans today, the bishops of Cuba invite them "to receive the Holy Father Benedict XVI with affection and enthusiasm as one who comes in the name of the Lord."
The bishops confirm the Pope's itinerary for the March 26-28 pastoral visit to Cuba, and exhort "all the faithful to take part in the two celebrations of Holy Mass, which will take place in Santiago de Cuba and Havana."
The Pontiff will arrive in Santiago de Cuba On Monday, March 26 at 2 pm. Mass in Antonio Maceo Square will take place at 5:30 pm. On Tuesday morning, March 27, the Holy Father will visit the image of the Virgin of Charity in the Basilica of the National Shrine of Cobre, at 9:30 am, he will travel to Havana, where he will celebrate Mass on Wednesday the 28th at 9 am in Jose Marti Square.
In the message, the bishops indicate that this good news is already being lived with particular enthusiasm in Catholic communities and parishes. They invite the faithful to dedicate three days of the week prior to the Pope's arrival to prayer and the mission.
They propose that Thursday, March 15 be dedicated to Eucharistic prayer in all the communities, that Friday the 16th be a day of fast and that Saturday, the 17th, be dedicated to works of charity. These actions will be offered for the spiritual fruits of the Holy Father's visit.
In their message they point out that the Jubilee Year 2012 is dedicated "to thank God for his gift of the Virgin of Charity, to put into practice Christian love with greater care and generosity, and to go on pilgrimage to her Shrine of Cobre."
They indicate that the papal visit will be an opportunity to "meditate on the teachings that the Holy Father will give us and thus strengthen the Christian roots of our nation."
The message includes a brief catechesis on the figure of the Pope who is visiting Cuba "in his status as universal pastor of the Catholic Church, Successor of the Apostle Saint Peter to whom Jesus Christ entrusted the mission to confirm his brothers in the faith and to be a sign of the unity of the Church in the world."
This visit, they say, fulfills a desire that has long been in the hearts of Catholics and of many Cubans who identify with or are a part of the Church.
"This has also been a desire of the Pope who, despite the limits imposed on him by his age and great responsibility in the Church and in the world, has wished to come to accompany and celebrate with Cubans the 4th centenary of the finding and presence of the holy image of the Virgin of Charity in our native land," write the bishops.
The message highlights the particular relevance of the Pope's visit to Cuba during the Marian Jubilee Year, "after the preparation carried out for three years in the communities and with the unforgettable and joyful memory of the Virgin of Mambisa's tour of the length and breadth of our country."
They recall that the pilgrimage of the image of the Virgin convoked and gathered millions of Cubans "who prayed, sang, wept and lived emotional religious experiences. Some felt their faith had revived, which had perhaps been hidden or asleep, and others approached Jesus Christ for the first time through the Virgin."
They point out that the members of the communities received the image and celebrated joyfully the presence of the Mother of the Son of God in their lives. "It was undoubtedly an experience of faith and of Cuban-ness which the Holy Father will confirm with his person and his word and, at the same time, will encourage sentiments and attitudes of Christian love, mercy, gratitude and reconciliation among all Cubans."
The bishops remind the faithful that the Pope is traveling to Cuba as a Pilgrim of Charity. And they add that "Charity is the name that we Cubans give to the Virgin Mary, the Mother of Jesus Christ, who with this name has accompanied, protected and alleviated our people in all the moments of our history for 400 years"
Charity, they add, "also means Christian love, like the one Jesus showed us and commanded us when he said 'love one another as I have loved you.'" (John 15:12)