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In the footsteps of his Predecessor

Pope Wojtyła’s Visit to Cuba left an indelible mark, in the opinion of his Successor who arrived about 15 years later and chose to dedicate to John Paul II his first words in Cuba. For many, believers and non-believers alike, the example and teachings of the Pontiff who came from far-away are “a luminous guide for their personal lives and their public activity in the service of the common good of the nation”, was Benedict XVI’s significant comment.

For the Church in Cuba, therefore, Pope Wojtyła’s Visit was “like a gentle breath of fresh air”, which gave her new strength, awakening in many a “renewed awareness of the importance of faith” and inaugurating a phase of greater cooperation and trust in the relationship between Church and State. However, in this area, the Pope stressed clearly, much remains to be done, especially as regards the “indispensable contribution” that religion is called to make in public life.

Following in the footsteps of John Paul II, his Successor therefore inaugurated the Caribbean phase of this new American journey, which began with the complete success of the days he had spent in Mexico. An impressive crowd, in all probably more than a million and a half, could be heard chanting “ Benedicto, hermano, ya eres mexicano ” [Benedict, our brother, now you are Mexican] in the streets filled to overflowing and at Bicentenary Park at the foot of Mount Cubilete, with an enthusiasm which the Pope himself recognized. And this warmth was confirmed by the farewell address of President Felipe Calderón and the moving one given by Benedict XVI.

In Mexico, looking with hope to the future, the Pope addressed the entire continent: emblematic in this regard were the presence in León Cathedral of representatives of the Latin American Bishops’ Conferences, and the words of their President, Archbishop Carlos Aguiar Retes. Likewise, on his arrival in Santiago, introducing himself as a “pilgrim of charity” on the fourth centenary of the discovery of a very widely venerated Marian image, Our Lady of Cobre, Benedict said that he carried in his heart “the just aspirations and legitimate desires of all Cubans, wherever they may be” and referred once again to the economic crisis, for which not a few blame the spiritual and moral crisis because an ethic that places the human person at the centre is lacking.

The first Mass on Cuban soil was memorable for its composure and for the number of those taking part — more than 250,000 people, including in the front row President Raúl Castro who had welcomed the Pope on his arrival — while evening engulfed the enormous image of the leader of the Revolution that stood in front of the altar.

Speaking of the Annunciation, Benedict XVI said among other things that with the Incarnation God entered human history, whereas when God is put aside the world becomes an “inhospitable place for man”. Thus, through the obedience of Mary, an image of the Church, a new world emerged. This world must be fought for day after day, but with the weapons of peace and forgiveness which reflect God’s goodness.

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St. Peter’s Square

Nov. 17, 2018

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