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BY Edward Pentin
Below are the Holy Father’s homilies and addresses during his visit to Cuba. Please check back here to read them soon after they are delivered:
March 28 - The Holy Father’s farewell address at Havana airport:
Your Eminences, my Brother Bishops,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I thank God for allowing me to visit this beautiful Isle which left so deep a mark on the heart of my beloved predecessor, Blessed John Paul II, when he came to these lands as a herald of truth and hope. I too greatly have wished to come among you as a pilgrim of charity, in order to thank the Virgin Mary for the presence of her venerable statue of the Sanctuary of El Cobre, whence for four centuries she has accompanied the journey of the Church in this nation and given encouragement to all Cubans so that, from the hand of Christ, they might discover the true meaning of the desires and aspirations found in the human heart and gain the strength needed to build a fraternal society in which no one feels excluded. “Christ, risen from the dead, shines in this world, and he does so most brightly in those places where, in human terms, everything is somber and hopeless. He has conquered death – he is alive – and faith in him, like a small light, cuts through all that is dark and threatening” (Prayer Vigil with Young People, Freiburg, 24 September 2011).
I thank the President and the other national authorities for the interest and generous cooperation which they have shown in the the preparation of this Journey. I am also deeply grateful to the members of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba, who spared no effort or sacrifice in this regard, and to all those who have helped in various ways, especially by their prayers.
I hold deep in my heart all the Cuban people, each and every one. You have surrounded me with prayer and affection, offered me cordial hospitality and shared with me your profound and rightful aspirations.
I came here as a witness to Jesus Christ, convinced that, wherever he is present, discouragement yields to hope, goodness dispels uncertainties and a powerful force opens up the horizon to beneficial and unexpected possibilities. In Christ’s name, and as the Successor of the Apostle Peter, I wished to proclaim his message of salvation and to strengthen the zeal and pastoral concern of the Cuban Bishops, the priests, the religious and all those preparing with enthusiasm for priestly ministry and the consecrated life. May this Journey also serve as a new impulse to all those who cooperate with perseverance and self-sacrifice in the work of evangelization, particularly the lay faithful. By intensifying their commitment to God at home and in the workplace, may they never tire of offering their responsible contribution for the good and the integral progress of their homeland.
The path which Christ points out to humanity, and to each particular individual and people, is not a source of constraint, but rather the primary and principal premise for their authentic development. The light of the Lord, has shone brightly during these days; may that light never fade in those who have welcomed it; may it help all people to foster social harmony and to allow the blossoming of all that is finest in the Cuban soul, its most noble values, which can be the basis for building a society of broad vision, renewed and reconciled. May no one feel excluded from taking up this exciting task because of limitations of his or her basic freedoms, or excused by indolence or lack of material resources, a situation which is worsened when restrictive economic measures, imposed from outside the country, unfairly burden its people.
I now conclude my pilgrimage, but I will continue praying fervently that you will go forward and that Cuba will be the home of all and for all Cubans, where justice and freedom coexist in a climate of serene fraternity. Respect and promotion of freedom which is present in the heart of each person are essential in order to respond adequately to the fundamental demands of his or her dignity and, in this way, to build up a society in which all are indispensable actors in the future of their life, their family and their country.
The present hour urgently demands that in personal, national and international co-existence we reject immovable positions and unilateral viewpoints which tend to make understanding more difficult and efforts at cooperation ineffective. Possible discrepancies and difficulties will be resolved by tirelessly seeking what unites everyone, with patient and sincere dialogue, and a willingness to listen and accept goals which will bring new hope.
Cuba, look again to the faith of your elders, draw from that faith the strength to build a better future, trust in the Lord’s promises, and open your heart to his Gospel so as to renew authentically your personal and social life.
As I bid you a heartfelt adios, I ask our Lady of Charity of El Cobre to protect all Cubans under her mantle, to sustain them in the midst of their trials and to obtain from Almighty God the grace that they most desire. Hasta siempre, Cuba, a land made beautiful by the maternal presence of Mary. May God bless your future.
March 28 - The Pope delivered the following homily at this morning’s Mass in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución “José Martí”:
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
“Blessed are you, Lord God…, and blessed is your holy and glorious name” (Dan 3:52). This hymn of blessing from the Book of Daniel resounds today in our liturgy, inviting us repeatedly to bless and thank God. We are a part of that great chorus which praises the Lord without ceasing. We join in this concert of thanksgiving, and we offer our joyful and confident voice, which seeks to consolidate the journey of faith in love and truth.
“Blessed be God” who gathers us in this historic square so that we may more profoundly enter into his life. 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.
I greet with cordial affection Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino, Archbishop of Havana, and I thank him for the kind words which he has addressed to me on your behalf. I extend warm greetings to the Cardinals and to my brother Bishops of Cuba and other countries who wished to take part in this solemn celebration. I also greet the priests, seminarians, men and women religious, and all the lay faithful gathered here, as well as the civil authorities who join us.
In today’s first reading, the three young men persecuted by the Babylonian king preferred to face death by fire rather than betray their conscience and their faith. They experienced the strength to “give thanks, 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.
“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (Jn 8:31). In this text from today’s Gospel, Jesus reveals himself as the Son of God the Father, the Saviour, the one who alone can show us the truth and give genuine freedom. His teaching provokes resistance and disquiet among his hearers, and he accuses them of seeking to kill him, alluding to the supreme sacrifice of the Cross, already imminent. Even so, he exhorts them to believe, to keep his word, so as to know the truth which redeems and dignifies.
The truth is a desire of the human person, the search for which always supposes the exercise of authentic freedom. Many, however, prefer shortcuts, trying to avoid this task. Some, like Pontius Pilate, ironically question the possibility of even knowing what truth is (cf. Jn 18:38), proclaiming that man is incapable of knowing it or denying that there exists a truth valid for all. This attitude, as in the case of scepticism and relativism, changes hearts, making them cold, wavering, distant from others and closed. They, like the Roman governor, wash their hands and let the water of history drain away without taking a stand.
On the other hand, there are those who wrongly interpret this search for the truth, leading them to irrationality and fanaticism; they close themselves up in “their truth”, and try to impose it on others. These are like the blind scribes who, upon seeing Jesus beaten and bloody, cry out furiously, “Crucify him!” (cf. Jn 19:6). Anyone who acts irrationally cannot become a disciple of Jesus. Faith and reason are necessary and complementary in the pursuit of truth. God created man with an innate vocation to the truth and he gave him reason for this purpose. Certainly, it is not irrationality but rather the yearning for truth which the Christian faith promotes. Each human being has to seek the truth and to choose it when he or she finds it, even at the risk of embracing sacrifices.
Furthermore, the truth which stands above humanity is an unavoidable condition for attaining freedom, since in it we discover the foundation of an ethics on which all can converge and which contains clear and precise indications concerning life and death, duties and rights, marriage, family and society, in short, regarding the inviolable dignity of the human person. This ethical patrimony can bring together different cultures, peoples and religions, authorities and citizens, citizens among themselves, and believers in Christ and non-believers.
Christianity, in highlighting those values which sustain ethics, does not impose, but rather proposes Christ’s invitation to know the truth which sets us free. The believer is called to offer that truth to his contemporaries, as did the Lord, even before the dark omen of rejection and the Cross. The personal encounter with the one who is Truth in person compels us to share this treasure with others, especially by our witness.
Dear friends, do not hesitate to follow Jesus Christ. 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 (cf. Jn 8:34). Only by renouncing hatred and our hard and blind hearts will we be free and a new life will well up in us.
Convinced that it is Christ who is the true measure of man, and knowing that in him we find the strength needed to face every trial, I wish to proclaim openly Jesus Christ as the way, the truth and the life. In him everyone will find complete freedom, the light to understand reality more deeply and to transform it by the renewing power of love.
The Church lives to make others sharers in the one thing she possesses, which is none other than Christ, our hope of glory (cf. Col 1:27). To carry out this duty, she must count on basic religious freedom, which consists in her being able to proclaim and to celebrate her faith also in public, bringing to others the message of love, reconciliation and peace which Jesus brought to the world. 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. 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.
The right to freedom of religion, both in its private and in its public dimension, manifests the unity of the human person, who is at once a citizen and a believer. It also legitimizes the fact that believers have a contribution to make to the building up of society. Strengthening religious freedom consolidates social bonds, nourishes the hope of a better world, creates favourable conditions for peace and harmonious development, while at the same time establishing solid foundations for securing the rights of future generations.
When the Church upholds this human right, she is not claiming any special privileges for herself. She wishes only to be faithful to the command of her divine founder, conscious that, where Christ is present, mankind becomes more human and founds its consistency. This is why the Church seeks to give witness by her preaching and teaching, both in catechesis and in schools and universities. It is greatly to be hoped that the moment will soon arrive when, here too, the Church can bring to the arenas of knowledge the benefits of the mission which the Lord entrusted to her and which she can never neglect.
A shining example of this commitment was the outstanding priest Félix Varela, educator and teacher, an illustrious son of this city of Havana, who has taken his place in Cuban history as the first one who taught his people how to think. 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, for this transformation depends on man’s spiritual life, in as much as “there is no authentic fatherland without virtue” (Letters to Elpidio, Letter 6, Madrid 1836, 220). 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.
Invoking the maternal protection of Mary Most Holy, let us ask that each time we participate in the Eucharist we will also become witnesses to that charity which responds to evil with good (cf. Rom 12:51), offering ourselves as a living sacrifice to the one who lovingly gave himself up for our sake. Let us walk in the light of Christ who alone can destroy the darkness of error. And let us beg him that, with the courage and strength of the saints, we may be able, without fear or rancour but freely, generously and consistently, to respond to God. Amen.
March 27 - This morning, the Pope traveled by car to the Shrine of the “Virgin of Charity” of El Cobre, where he spent time in prayer and gave this address:
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I have come as a pilgrim to the house of the blessed statue of Our Lady of Charity, la Mambisa as you call upon her with affection. Her presence in this town of El Cobre is a gift from heaven for all Cubans.
I am pleased to offer cordial greetings to everyone here present. Receive the affection of the Pope and carry it with you from this place, so that everyone can experience consolation and strength in faith. 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 of renewal and hope, for the greater good of all Cubans. 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. I have placed in her Immaculate Heart your young people, that they may be authentic friends of Christ and not succumb to things which bring sadness in their wake. Before Mary of Charity, I remember in a particular way Cubans who are the descendents of those who arrived here from Africa, and the nearby people of Haiti, who still suffer the consequences of the earthquake of two years ago. And I cannot forget the many country people and their families who wish to live the Gospel deeply in their homes and who offer their homes as mission centres for the celebration of Mass.
Following the example of the Most Holy Virgin, I encourage all the sons and daughters of this dear country to continue to build their lives on the firm rock which is Jesus Christ, to work for justice, to be servants of charity and to persevere in the midst of trials. May nothing or no one take from you your inner joy which is so characteristic of the Cuban soul. May God bless you. Thank you very much.
March 26th - Pope Benedict XVI’s homily this evening at a Mass in Plaza Antonio Maceo a Santiago de Cuba, on the Solemnity of the Annunciation.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I give thanks to God who has allowed me to come to you and to make this much anticipated trip. I greet Bishop Dionisio García Ibáñez, Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba, and I thank him for his warm words of welcome offered on behalf of everyone. I greet the Bishops of Cuba and those who have come from elsewhere, and the priests, religious men and women, seminarians and lay faithful present for this celebration. I cannot forget all those who, for reasons of illness, advanced age or for other motives, are not able to join us. I also greet the civil Authorities who have graciously wished to join us.
This first Holy Mass which I have the joy of celebrating during my pastoral visit to this country, takes place in the context of the Marian Jubilee Year called to honour and to venerate Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, Patroness of Cuba, in this fourth centenary of the discovery and presence of her venerable statue in this blessed land. I cannot forget the sacrifices and the dedication with which this jubilee has been prepared, especially spiritually. I was deeply touched to hear of the fervour with which Mary has been welcomed and invoked by so many Cubans during her journey to every corner of the island.
These important events in the Church in Cuba take on a special lustre because of the feast celebrated today throughout the universal Church: the Annunciation of the Lord to the Virgin Mary. The Incarnation of the Son of God is the central mystery of the Christian faith, and in it Mary occupies a central place. But, we ask, what is the meaning of this mystery? And, what importance does it have for our concrete lives?
First of all, let us see what the Incarnation means. In the Gospel of Saint Luke we heard the words of the angel to Mary: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God” (Lk 1:35). In Mary, the Son of God is made man, fulfilling in this way the prophecy of Isaiah: “Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel, which means ‘God-with-us’” (Is 7:14). Jesus, the Word made flesh, is truly God-with-us, who has come to live among us and to share our human condition. The Apostle Saint John expresses it in the following way: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14). The expression, “became flesh” points to our human reality in most concrete and tangible way. In Christ, God has truly come into the world, he has entered into our history, he has set his dwelling among us, thus fulfilling the deepest desire of human beings that the world may truly become a home worthy of humanity. On the other hand, when God is put aside, the world becomes an inhospitable place for man, and frustrates creation’s true vocation to be a space for the covenant, for the “Yes” to the love between God and humanity who responds to him. Mary did so as the first fruit of believers with her unreserved “Yes” to the Lord.
For this reason, contemplating the mystery of the Incarnation, we cannot fail to turn our eyes to her so as to be filled with wonder, gratitude and love at seeing how our God, coming into the world, wished to depend upon the free consent of one of his creatures. Only from the moment when the Virgin responded to the angel, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38), did the eternal Word of the Father began his human existence in time. It is touching to see how God not only respects human freedom: he almost seems to require it. And we see also how the beginning of the earthly life of the Son of God was marked by a double “Yes” to the saving plan of the Father - that of Christ and that of Mary. This obedience to God is what opens the doors of the world to the truth, to salvation. God has created us as the fruit of his infinite love; hence, to live in accordance with his will is the way to encounter our genuine identity, the truth of our being, while apart from God we are alienated from ourselves and are hurled into the void. The obedience of faith is true liberty, authentic redemption, which allows us to unite ourselves to the love of Jesus in his determination to conform himself to the will of the Father. Redemption is always this process of the lifting up of the human will to full communion with the divine will (cf. Lectio Divina with the parish priests of Rome, 18 February 2010).
Dear brothers and sisters, today we praise the Most Holy Virgin for her faith, and with Saint Elizabeth we too say, “Blessed is she who believed” (Lk 1:45). As Saint Augustine said, Mary conceived Christ by faith in her heart before she conceived him physically in her womb; Mary believed and what she believed was came to be in her (cf. Sermo 215, 4: PL 38, 1074). Let us ask the Lord to strengthen our faith, to make it active and fruitful in love. Let us implore him that, like her, we may welcome the word of God into our hearts, and carry it out with docility and constancy.
The Virgin Mary, by her unique role in the mystery of Christ, represents the exemplar and model of the Church. The Church, like the Mother of Christ, is also called to embrace in herself the mystery of God who comes to live in her. Dear brothers and sisters, I know with what effort, boldness and self-sacrifice you work every day so that, in the concrete circumstances of your country, and at this moment in history, the Church will better present her true face as a place in which God draws near and encounters humanity. The Church, the living body of Christ, has the mission of prolonging on earth the salvific presence of God, of opening the world to something greater than itself, to the love and the light of God. It is worth the effort, dear brothers and sisters, to devote your entire life to Christ, to grow in his friendship each day and to feel called to proclaim the beauty and the goodness of his life to every person, to all our brothers and sisters. I encourage you in this task of sowing the word of God in the world and offering to everyone the true nourishment of the body of Christ. Easter is already approaching; let us determine to follow Jesus without fear or doubts on his journey to the Cross. May we accept with patience and faith whatever opposition or affliction may come, with the conviction that, in his Resurrection, he has crushed the power of evil which darkens everything, and has brought the dawn of a new world, the world of God, of light, of truth and happiness. The Lord will not fail to bless with abundant fruits the generosity of your commitment.
The mystery of the Incarnation, in which God draws near to us, also shows us the incomparable dignity of every human life. In his loving plan, from the beginning of creation, God has entrusted to the family founded on matrimony the most lofty mission of being the fundamental cell of society and an authentic domestic church. With this certainty, you, dear husbands and wives, are called to be, especially for your children, a real and visible sign of the love of Christ for the Church. Cuba needs the witness of your fidelity, your unity, your capacity to welcome human life, especially that of the weakest and most needy.
Dear brothers and sisters, before the gaze of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, I appeal to you to reinvigorate your faith, that you may live in Christ and for Christ, and armed with peace, forgiveness and understanding, that you may strive to build a renewed and open society, a better society, one more worthy of humanity, and which better reflects the goodness of God. Amen.
Message at the arrival ceremony this afternoon, Santiago de Cuba airport:
Dear Cardinals and Brother Bishops,
Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear People of Cuba,
Thank you, Mr President, for your welcome and your kind words, with which you also conveyed the sentiments of respect of the Cuban government and people for the Successor of Peter. I greet the civil authorities here present, as well as the members of the diplomatic corps. I cordially greet the President of the Episcopal Conference, Archbishop Dionisio Guillermo García Ibáñez of Santiago de Cuba; the Archbishop of Havana, Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino, and my other Brother Bishops of Cuba, and I assure them of my deep spiritual closeness. Finally, I greet with heartfelt affection all the faithful of the Catholic Church in Cuba, the beloved people of this beautiful island, and all Cubans wherever they may be. You are always present in my heart and prayers, especially in the days preceding the much anticipated moment of my visit to you, which the grace and goodness of God has made possible.
Standing here among you, I cannot but recall the historic visit to Cuba of my predecessor, Blessed John Paul II, who left an indelible mark on the soul of all Cubans. For many, whether believers or not, his example and his teachings are a luminous guide for their personal lives and their public activity in the service of the common good of the nation. 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. One of the important fruits of that visit was the inauguration of a new phase in the relationship in Cuba between Church and State, in a new spirit of cooperation and trust, even if many areas remain in which greater progress can and ought to be made, especially as regards the indispensable public contribution that religion is called to make in the life of society.
I am pleased to share your joy as you celebrate the four hundredth anniversary of the discovery of the holy 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. Devotion to the Virgen Mambisa has sustained the faith and inspired the defence and promotion of all that gives dignity to the human condition and its fundamental rights, and continues to do so today with ever greater strength, giving visible witness to the fruitfulness of the preaching of the Gospel in these lands, and to the profound Christian roots which shape the deepest identity of the Cuban soul. Following in the footsteps of countless pilgrims down the centuries, I too wish to go to El Cobre to kneel at the feet of the Mother of God, to thank her for her concern for all her Cuban children, and to ask her to guide the future of this beloved nation in the ways of justice, peace, freedom and reconciliation.
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. I carry in my heart the just aspirations and legitimate desires of all Cubans, wherever they may be, their sufferings and their joys, their concerns and their noblest desires, those of the young and the elderly, of adolescents and children, of the sick and workers, of prisoners and their families, and of the poor and those in need.
Many parts of the world today are experiencing a time of particular economic difficulty, that not a few people regard as part of a profound spiritual and moral crisis which has left humanity devoid of values and defenceless before the ambition and selfishness of certain powers which take little account of the true good of individuals and families. We can no longer continue in the same cultural and moral direction which has caused the painful situation that many suffer. On the other hand, 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. In the hearts and minds of many, the way is thus opening to an ever greater certainty that the rebirth of society demands upright men and women of firm moral convictions, with noble and strong values who will not be manipulated by dubious interests and who are respectful of the unchanging and transcendent nature of the human person.
Dear friends, I am convinced that Cuba, at this moment of particular importance in its history, is already looking to the future, and thus is striving to renew and broaden its horizons. Of great help in this enterprise will be the fine patrimony of spiritual and moral values which fashioned the nation’s true identity, and which stand out in the work and the life of many distinguished fathers of the country, like Blessed José Olallo y Valdés, the Servant of God Félix Varela, and the acclaimed José Martí. For her part, the Church too has diligently contributed to the cultivation of those values through her generous and selfless pastoral mission, and renews her commitment to work tirelessly the better to serve all Cubans.
I ask the Lord to bless abundantly this land and its children, in particular those who feel disadvantaged, the excluded and all those who suffer in body or spirit. At the same time, I pray that, through the intercession of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, he will grant to all a future of hope, solidarity and harmony. Thank you.