For the third time in less than 20 years a pope has visited Cuba: the first was John Paul ii in January 1998, then Benedict xvi in March 2012 and now Francis, the first American Pontiff, has taken his turn. With this journey he highlighted the connection between these two countries — Cuba and the United States — which after half a century of bitter tensions and disputes have finally, with the help of the Holy See, come closer together. Also thanks to the impulse in their respective episcopates, of those who knew how to heed Wojtyła’s words, which Bergoglio echoed upon his arrival in Havana on a hot and humid afternoon: may Cuba open itself up to the world, and may the world open itself up to Cuba.
The occasion for the visit is twofold, as the Pontiff recalled: the centenary of the proclamation of the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre as the Patroness of Cuba — decided by Benedict xv at the request of the veterans of the war of independence from the Spanish crown — and the 80th anniversary of uninterrupted diplomatic relations between Cuba and the Holy See, which, significantly, the Pope emphasized with an addition to his prepared text. He was welcomed by President Raúl Castro, who was later also present at the Mass celebrated in the capital. Bergoglio then addressed a greeting to Fidel Castro, whom he visited privately shortly thereafter, and to “all those who, for various reasons, I will not be able to meet”, he said.
The same concern was reiterated after the large Mass in the Plaza de la Revolución, when the Pope appealed for a definitive reconciliation a lasting peace in Colombia, where the blood of thousands has been shed in the decades of armed conflict — the longest currently underway. “Please, we do not have the right to allow ourselves yet another failure on this path”, he implored, openly supporting negotiations.Mentioning then Cuba’s natural vocation as a “point of encounter”, the Pope referred to the process of normalization with the United States. The new course courageously undertaken by the two countries is a matter of the utmost importance in the international panorama. Bergoglio declared it “a sign of the victory of the culture of encounter” and “an example of reconciliation for the entire world” — a world which “needs reconciliation in this climate of a piecemeal third world war”. Speaking extemporaneously with journalists on the flight to Havana, the Pontiff was once again persistent regarding the urgent need for peace.
The Pontiff’s words came at the end of a celebration in which his homily was inspired by the greatness of the second Gospel passage that had just been read: one who wants to be great must serve others and not be served by others. Serving in this context, he explained, means caring for those who are frail, fighting for the dignity of our brothers and sisters, and looking to their faces: “Service is never ideological, for we do not serve ideas, we serve people” who are overlooked by plans which may be seductive.
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