HAVANA, Cuba—Cuba has made progress towards full religious freedom, and the government should continue these advances to strengthen society and to allow the Catholic Church to pursue her mission, Pope Benedict XVI said at a huge public Mass in Havana, Cuba.
“It must be said with joy that in Cuba steps have been taken to enable the Church to carry out her essential mission of expressing her faith openly and publicly,” the Pope said in his homily on March 28.
“Nonetheless, this must continue forwards, and I wish to encourage the country’s government authorities to strengthen what has already been achieved and advance along this path of genuine service to the true good of Cuban society as a whole.”
Religious freedom shows “the unity of the human person, who is at once a citizen and a believer,” he explained. This freedom legitimizes believers’ contributions to building up society.
“Strengthening religious freedom consolidates social bonds, nourishes the hope of a better world, creates favorable conditions for peace and harmonious development, while at the same time establishing solid foundations for securing the rights of future generations.”
An estimated 700,000 people attended the Mass at Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución, where large black silhouettes of the Cuban revolutionary leaders Fidel Castro and Che Guevara decorate the buildings.
“I feel great joy in being here with you today to celebrate holy Mass during this Jubilee Year devoted to Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre,” the Pope said, referring to Cuba’s patron saint.
The Pope’s March 28 homily came on the third and final day of his visit to Cuba, where tensions between the Catholic Church and the communist government have eased in recent decades.
He emphasized that the Church’s support for religious freedom is not a claim of any special privilege. Rather, it is an act of faithfulness to Jesus.
“The Church lives to make others sharers in the one thing she possesses, which is none other than Christ, our hope of glory,” he said. Where Christ is present, mankind “becomes more human” and finds consistency.
Pope Benedict expressed hope that the Church in Cuba can resume work in education, following the example of the 19th-century educator and Servant of God Father Félix Varela.
“Father Varela offers us a path to a true social transformation: to form virtuous men and women in order to forge a worthy and free nation,” he said. “Cuba and the world need change, but this will occur only if each one is in a position to seek the truth and chooses the way of love, sowing reconciliation and fraternity.”
The Pope also reflected on the nature of faith and freedom, using the Scripture readings at Mass.
“Dear friends, do not hesitate to follow Jesus Christ,” he exhorted. “In him we find the truth about God and about mankind. He helps us to overcome our selfishness, to rise above our ambitions and to conquer all that oppresses us. The one who does evil, who sins, becomes a slave of sin and will never attain freedom.”
The Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar’s persecution of three young believers in God, recounted in the Book of Daniel, showed that they experienced the strength to glorify and praise God “in the conviction that the Lord of the universe and of history would not abandon them to death and annihilation.”
“Truly, God never abandons his children; he never forgets them. He is above us and is able to save us by his power. At the same time, he is near to his people, and through his son Jesus Christ he has wished to make his dwelling place among us in,” the Pope said.
Jesus’ own revelation of himself as the son of God the Father and the Savior provokes “resistance and disquiet.” Though he accuses his hearers of seeking to kill him, he exhorts them to believe in order to know “the truth which redeems and dignifies.”
Pope Benedict criticized both the skepticism and relativism of Pontius Pilate and the “irrationality and fanaticism” of those who wrongly interpret the search for truth and become closed up and try to impose truth on others.
The first attitude changes hearts and makes them “cold, wavering, distant from others.” Those who have this attitude, like Pilate, “wash their hands and let the water of history drain away, without taking a stand.”
As for fanaticism, he noted, “anyone who acts irrationally cannot become a disciple of Jesus.”
“Faith and reason are necessary and complementary in the pursuit of truth,” he declared, saying that the Christian faith promotes “not irrationality, but, rather, the yearning for truth.”
Pope Benedict closed his homily by invoking the blessing of the Virgin Mary.
“Let us walk in the light of Christ, who alone can destroy the darkness of error,” he said. “And let us beg him that, with the courage and strength of the saints, we may be able, without fear or rancor, but freely, generously and consistently, to respond to God.”