Plaza de la Revolución. Revolution Square: site of three Papal Masses; St. John Paul II in 1998, Pope Benedict XVI in 2012 and now Pope Francis in 2015.
Known for its famed memorial to Cuban poet and national hero Jose Marti, the square is also known for one of the most prominent images of another important figure in Cuba’s history: Che Guevara.
While the presence of the Popes, both past and present, has always been a sign of contradiction to the Marxist leader’s ideology, that difference was even more prominent today. Two Argentinians, two somewhat similar goals, two very different paths.
Early in his life, Che Guevara embarked on a journey through Latin America, which exposed him to the difficult lives of the poor, the marginalized, the exploited. It was this journey that influenced his turning towards Marxism and guerilla warfare to fight for the defenseless.
Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the son of Italian immigrants, joined the Jesuits in 1958, later becoming provincial superior. He then rose in the ranks of the Church hierarchy, and was eventually appointed Archbishop of Buenos Aires. Concerned about the poor and marginalized who lived in the slums, he increased the Church’s presence with those most in need. He often bumped heads with superiors and heads of states in his life, in defending the defenseless, whether poor, marginalized or in the womb.
One sought justice through the gospel of rebellion and revolution, the other through the gospel of love and service.
This gospel of love and service was the central theme of Pope Francis’ homily today on the first full day of his Apostolic Visit to Cuba. St. Mark’s gospel recounted an argument among the disciples regarding who was most important. Like the disciples, the Pope said, often times we too can be caught up in similar arguments.
“Who is the most important? This is a life-long question to which, at different times, we must give an answer. We cannot escape the question; it is written on our hearts,” he said. “I remember more than once, at family gatherings, children being asked: “Who do you love more, Mommy or Daddy”? It’s like asking them: “Who is the most important for you?” But is this only a game we play with children? The history of humanity has been marked by the answer we give to this question.”
The Pope said that Jesus finds an answer to the disciples’ question that instead poses a new challenge. Christ, he said, places the “logic” of love, a way of life that is capable to be lived out by all.
“Far from any kind of elitism, the horizon to which Jesus points us is not for those few privileged souls capable of attaining the heights of knowledge or different levels of spirituality,” he said. “The horizon to which Jesus points us always has to do with daily life, also here on “our island”, something which can season our daily lives with eternity.
Who is the most important? Jesus is straightforward in his reply: “Whoever wishes to be the first among you must be the last of all, and the servant of all”. Whoever wishes to be great must serve others, not be served by others.”
The 78 year old Pontiff reminded the faithful present that being a Christian means caring, protecting and serving others, especially those who are most vulnerable. However, he warned of the temptation of another kind of service, one that is “self-serving.”
“There is a way to go about serving which is interested in only helping “my people”, “our people”. This service always leaves “your people” outside, and gives rise to a process of exclusion.”
The Pope said that by virtue of the Christian vocation to service, all are called to care out of love and not out of one’s own interest. This is reflected in Jesus’ response to his disciples: “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”
“This caring for others out of love is not about being servile,” he stressed. “Rather, it means putting our brothers and sisters at the center. Service always looks to their faces, touches their flesh, senses their closeness and even, in some cases, “suffers” in trying to help. Service is never ideological, for we do not serve ideas, we serve people.”
Praising the faithful of the Church in Cuba, the Pope called on them to guard their vocation of walking in hope despite the wounds of their history. He also reminded them to be at the service of the weakest.
“Do not neglect them for plans which can be seductive, but are unconcerned about the face of the person beside you,” he said. “We know, we are witnesses of the incomparable power of the resurrection, which ‘everywhere calls forth the seeds of a new world.’”
Concluding his homily, Pope Francis reminded those present once again of the importance of caring for others, which he said is where one encounters one of the fruits of a true humanity.
“Whoever does not live to serve, does not ‘serve’ to live”, he said.
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On ZENIT’s website:
For the full text of the Pope’s homily, go to: http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/pope-francis-homily-at-mass-in-havana-s-plaza-de-la-revolucion