Pope Francis arrived this afternoon in Cuba, giving the first of his official addresses for this nine-day apostolic visit that will also bring him to the United States. He referenced the opening of relations between his two host countries and affirmed that the world “needs reconciliation,” as we live what he has referred to a handful of times as a Third World War being fought in pieces.
The Holy Father was greeted with fanfare and a brisk breeze as he spent a few minutes in warm conversation with a group of children who presented him with two bouquets, one in the colors of Cuba, and another in the yellow and white of the Vatican.
President Rafael Castro welcomed the Pontiff with a lengthy address that touched on themes ranging from poverty and the Pope’s call to solidarity, to nuclear disarmament and the US embargo.
For his part, the Pope gave his thanks for all who prepared for his visit and asked that the president “convey my sentiments of particular respect and consideration to your brother Fidel.”
During his address, he followed his prepared text almost entirely, only going off the cuff to say that the warming of relations between the US and Cuba is “a process” and to make his exhortation about fostering reconciliation in an atmosphere of the “Third World War” being fought piecemeal.
Both Castro and the Pope mentioned that the visit marks the 80th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the Holy See.
Speaking of his visit as coming in line with the visits made by his two immediate predecessors, the Pope emphasized the need for the Church to have the “freedom, the means and the space” to do Her mission.
“Providence today enables me to come to this beloved nation, following the indelible path opened by the unforgettable apostolic journeys which my two predecessors, Saint John Paul II and Benedict XVI, made to this island. I know that the memory of those visits awakens gratitude and affection in the people and leaders of Cuba. Today we renew those bonds of cooperation and friendship, so that the Church can continue to support and encourage the Cuban people in its hopes and concerns, with the freedom, the means and the space needed to bring the proclamation of the Kingdom to the existential peripheries of society,” the Pontiff said.
In Our Lady’s care
Pope Francis also noted that his visit marks the 100th anniversary of Benedict XV’s declaration of our Lady of Charity of El Cobre as Patroness of Cuba.
“It was the veterans of the War of Independence who, moved by sentiments of faith and patriotism, wanted the Virgen mambisa to be the patroness of Cuba as a free and sovereign nation. Since that time she has accompanied the history of the Cuban people, sustaining the hope which preserves people’s dignity in the most difficult situations and championing the promotion of all that gives dignity to the human person,” the Pope observed. “The growing devotion to the Virgin is a visible testimony of her presence in the soul of the Cuban people. In these days I will have occasion to go to El Cobre, as a son and pilgrim, to pray to our Mother for all her Cuban children and for this beloved nation, that it may travel the paths of justice, peace, liberty and reconciliation.”
The Holy Father also noted the plea Pope John Paul II made when he visited Cuba in 1998: “May Cuba, with all its magnificent potential, open itself to the world, and may the world open itself to Cuba.”
“Geographically, Cuba is an archipelago, facing all directions, with an extraordinary value as a ‘key’ between north and south, east and west. Its natural vocation is to be a point of encounter for all peoples to join in friendship,” Francis said.
He spoke of the warming of relations with the US as an “event which fills us with hope.”
“I urge political leaders to persevere on this path and to develop all its potentialities as a proof of the high service which they are called to carry out on behalf of the peace and well-being of their peoples, of all America, and as an example of reconciliation for the entire world,” he said.
The welcoming ceremony was the only event on the Pope’s official schedule for today. On Sunday, he will celebrate Mass at 9 a.m. in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution, and give First Communion to five young people. Later on Sunday he will lead vespers with the country’s bishops, priests, seminarians and religious, and have a meeting with youth in the evening.
He will visit three cities in Cuba before departing Tuesday for the United States.
On ZENIT’s Web page:
Pope’s schedule for visit: http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/schedule-for-pope-s-cuba-us-trip