SANTIAGO DE CUBA, MARCH 27, 2012 (Zenit.org).- On Monday, Benedict XVI arrived at Antonio Maceo International Airport, Santiago de Cuba. As he greeted the political and Church representatives present he recalled the previous visit to Cuba by John Paul II:
“His visit to this island was like a gentle breath of fresh air which gave new strength to the Church in Cuba, awakening in many a renewed awareness of the importance of faith and inspiring them to open their hearts to Christ, while at the same time kindling their hope and encouraging their desire to work fearlessly for a better future,” the Pope said.
He also said he was pleased to be there at the time the nation is celebrating the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the statue of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre.
“Since the beginning she has been very much present in the personal lives of Cubans as well as in the great events of the nation, especially since independence, for she is honoured by all as the true mother of the Cuban people,” he commented.
This devotion, the Pontiff noted, had supported Cubans as they have defended and promoted human dignity and fundamental rights.
“I come to Cuba as a pilgrim of charity, to confirm my brothers and sisters in the faith and strengthen them in the hope which is born of the presence of God’s love in our lives,” he proclaimed.
Referring to the economic difficulties in many parts of the world at present the Pope referred to it as a lack of values and as part of a profound spiritual and moral crisis. We cannot continue as before, he urged, saying that: “real progress calls for an ethics which focuses on the human person and takes account of the most profound human needs, especially man’s spiritual and religious dimension.”
Visit to Sanctuary
Early today, Benedict XVI visited the sanctuary of Our Lady of Charity. Declaring that he had come as a pilgrim he assured those present of his affection and prayers for them.
“Let all those you meet know, whether near or far, that I have entrusted to the Mother of God the future of your country, advancing along the ways renewal and hope, for the greater good of all Cubans,” he said.
“I have also prayed to the Virgin for the needs of those who suffer, of those who are deprived of freedom, those who are separated from their loved ones or who are undergoing times of difficulty,” he added.
Around four centuries ago two brothers, Rodrigo and Juan de Hoyos, and a 10-year-old slave boy named Juan Moreno, set sail in search of salt to preserve meat for the workers in the copper mines where El Cobre is located.
As they sailed a strong storm came up and they prayed to Our Lady. The storm calmed and they saw a small bundle floated across the water toward them. It turned out to be the statue of Our Lady. It was attached to a board and bore the inscription I am the Virgin of Charity. A shrine was built immediately, and instantly became a pilgrimage destination.
Our Lady of Charity was declared the patroness of Cuba by Pope Benedict XV in 1916.