Not by chance was this considered the most political day of the Pope’s stay in Cuba during which he paid a Courtesy Call on President Raúl Castro. It began in the southern region, that is, at the little Marian Shrine of Our Lady of El Cobre, where the Baroque statue of Mary with the Child in her arms is venerated. The fourth centenary of its miraculous discovery is being celebrated — in the sign of the charity proper to the island’s Patroness. Moreover, it was precisely as a “pilgrim of charity” that Benedict XVI went there to support and encourage in their faith Cuban Catholics — in their homeland and outside it — showing what the Church’s policy truly is.
Surrounded by the nation’s Bishops, the Pope called on Our Lady of Charity, so that she might teach us, he prayed together with those present, “to hold our hand out to forgive and to be forgiven, to respect everyone out of love, to overcome division, resentment and hostility, to be united like brothers and sisters, to be more human and better Christians”, in a word, “to love and to live charity”. Just before this, in front of the luxuriant green hills that surround the little white church, an elderly woman religious explained with simplicity that “there must be a reason for it if the Virgin chose to come here”, an evocative natural and splendid context which John Paul II did not manage to get to during his historic Visit.
To the Patroness of Cuba — whose presence Benedict XVI described as a “gift from heaven” — the Pontiff said, addressing the faithful and recommending that they undertake to echo of his words, that he had entrusted to the Patroness of Cuba the future of the country and the needs of all who are suffering: of those, that is, “who are deprived of freedom, those who are separated from their loved ones or who are undergoing times of difficulty”. Next, the Pope remembered youth so that they might not succumb to “things which bring sadness in their wake”, then the Cubans, descendents of those who arrived from Africa, then the people of Haiti, devastated by the earthquake, and lastly the country people and their families who with the wish to live the Gospel have turned their homes into centres of worship and of mission, as it were, new domus ecclesiae, as in the first centuries of Christianity.
Yes, these are the objectives for which the Church in Cuba, which is neither a party nor a power, strives every day — as Benedict XVI reaffirmed during his flight to America. Her most authentic features are on the contrary those of Christian brotherliness, the model of which is Mary herself who listened and showed the Lord exactly what the Church must do. For this reason the Pope ended his Discourse by encouraging Cubans “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”. These words, the only ones that the Pontiff spoke in public, outline the way of the Church, and, ultimately, her true policy: that of Christ’s charity.
St. Peter’s Square
Jan. 18, 2019
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