HAVANA, Cuba, MAY 3, 2011 (Zenit.org).- The apostolic nuncio in Cuba says Blessed John Paul II was “a friend of Cuba,” who followed the situation of the island with careful interest and affection for the people.
Archbishop Giovanni Becciu said this Sunday, when he presided over a Mass in the Havana cathedral in honor of the newly beatified John Paul II.
The Polish Pope is the only of Peter’s Successors to visit the Caribbean island, and his 1998 four-day tour marked a milestone both for the Church and the politics of the region.
According to Benedict XVI’s secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, John Paul II considered it a positive trip, above all because of the Cubans’ enthusiasm, and because it brought them moments of freedom.
The cardinal reflects on the trip in his book “Un cuore grande, Omaggio a Giovanni Paolo II,” (A Great Heart: Homage to John Paul II), to be released by the Vatican Publishing House.
The cardinal, who himself visited the island in 2008 as Benedict XVI’s envoy to mark the 10th anniversary of John Paul II’s visit, reveals that Fidel Castro was considered by the Polish Pontiff as the head of state who perhaps best prepared for a visit by the Bishop of Rome.
“Fidel Castro showed a sincere affection for the Pope who, it must be remembered, was already ill,” Cardinal Bertone says in the book. “John Paul II told me that perhaps no other head of state had prepared for his visit in such a precise manner.”
Castro “had read his encyclicals, the main speeches and even some poems,” Bertone reports.
At Sunday’s Mass to honor Blessed John Paul II, government officials were in attendance and the state television channel broadcasted a Vatican recording of the ceremony in Rome.
John Paul II is remembered for exhorting Cuba to “open itself to the world” and calling the world to “open itself to Cuba.”
“Without a doubt, we can say that his visit was a transcendent event in the history of this nation and of the Church,” Archbishop Becciu affirmed.
The Vatican official thanked the Cuban government for sending an official delegation to the celebration, calling this a manifestation of government “satisfaction with the event and good relations with the Holy See.”
The Church has been playing a key role in relations with the Castro government over the last several months. Thanks to Church mediationhttp://www.zenit.org/article-32366?l=english”>mediation>, several dozen political prisoners have been released and relocated to Spain with members of their families.