Pope: Mexico and Cuba etched on my heart

2012-04-04 Vatican Radio

AVatican Radio translation of Pope Benedict XVI’s General Audience catechesis

Dear brothers and sisters, I would like to dwell upon my recent apostolic journey to Mexico and Cuba which aroused emotions that are still very much alive in me. My soul instinctively gives thanks to the Lord: in his providence, He wanted me to go for the first time as the Successor of Peter to these two countries, which custody the indelible memory of the visits made by Blessed John Paul II. The bicentennial of the Independence of Mexico and other Latin American countries, the two decades of diplomatic relations between Mexico and the Holy See and the fourth centenary of the discovery of the image of the Virgin of Charity of Cobre in Cuba were the occasions for my pilgrimage. With it I wanted to embrace the entire continent, inviting everyone to live together in hope and in a concrete commitment to walk together toward a better future. I am grateful to the Presidents of Mexico and Cuba, who welcomed me with deference and courtesy, as well as to other authorities. My heartfelt thanks go to the Archbishops of León, Santiago de Cuba and La Habana and other venerable Brothers in the Episcopate, who received me with great affection, as well as their collaborators and all those who have generously spent themselves for this pastoral visit. They were unforgettable days of joy and hope, that will remain etched in my heart!

The first stop was Leon, in Guanajuato state, Mexico's geographical center. Here a large cheering crowd gave me an extraordinary, jubilant and lively welcome, as a sign of the warm embrace of an entire population. From the welcoming ceremony I was able to grasp the faith and the warmth of the priests, consecrated persons and lay faithful. In the presence of representatives of the institutions, many bishops and representatives of civil society, I recalled the need for the recognition and protection of fundamental human rights, among them religious freedom, assuring my closeness to those who suffer from social ills, old and new conflicts, corruption and violence. I recall with deep gratitude the endless lines of people along the streets, who accompanied me with enthusiasm. In those hands that reached out in sign of greeting and affection, in those happy faces, in the shouts of joy I caught the tenacious hope of Mexican Christians, a hope still burning in their hearts despite the difficult times of violence, which I did not fail to deplore, with my heartfelt thoughts for the victims, some of whom I was able to personally comfort. The same day I met many children and adolescents, who are the future of the nation and the Church. Their inexhaustible joy, expressed with loud songs and music, as well as their eyes and their gestures, expressed the strong desire of all the children of Mexico, Latin America and the Caribbean to live in peace, serenity and harmony, in a more just and reconciled society.

The disciples of the Lord must help nurture the joy of being Christian and the joy of belonging to his Church. The energy to serve Christ in difficult situations and suffering is also born from this joy. I recalled this truth to the immense crowd that gathered for the Sunday Eucharistic celebration in León’s Bicentennial Park. I urged everyone to trust in the goodness of Almighty God which can change dark and unbearable situations from within, from the heart. The Mexicans responded with their ardent faith, with their convinced adherence to the Gospel, I recognized once again consoling signs of hope for the continent. The last event of my visit to Mexico was again in Leon, the celebration of Vespers in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Light, with the Mexican bishops and representatives of the Episcopate of America. I expressed my closeness to their commitment to meeting the various challenges and difficulties, and my gratitude for those who sow the seeds of the Gospel in situations that are complex and often not without limitations. I encouraged them to be zealous pastors and reliable guides, arousing sincere communion and heartfelt support to the teaching of the Church everywhere. I then left the beloved land of Mexico, where I experienced a special affection and devotion to the Vicar of Christ. Before leaving, I urged the Mexican people to remain faithful to the Lord and his Church, firmly anchored to its Christian roots.

The next day began the second part of my apostolic trip with my arrival in Cuba, where I went primarily to support the mission of the Catholic Church, committed to proclaiming the Gospel with joy, despite the poverty of resources and the difficulties still to be overcome so that religion can carry out its spiritual service and its part in formation in the public square of society. This I wanted to emphasize coming to Santiago de Cuba, the island's second city, not failing to highlight the good relations that exist between the State and the Holy See, with the aim of serving the living and constructive presence of the local Church. I also ensured them that the Pope carries the concerns and aspirations of all Cubans in his heart, especially those who suffer from limitations of freedom.

The first Mass I had the joy of celebrating on Cuban soil was held in the context of the fourth centenary of the discovery image of the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre, the patroness of Cuba. It was a moment of great spiritual intensity, with the careful and prayerful participation of thousands of people, a sign of a Church that comes from situations that are far from easy, but with a lively witness of charity and active presence in people's lives. Cuban Catholics, along with the entire population, hope for a better future, I invited them to give new vigor to their faith and to assist with the courage of forgiveness and understanding, in building an open and renewed society where there is more room for God, because when God is removed, the world becomes an inhospitable place for humans. Before leaving Santiago de Cuba, I went to the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity in El Cobre, so dear to the Cuban people. The pilgrimage of the image of Our Lady of Charity in the families of the island has attracted a great spiritual enthusiasm, representing a significant event of new evangelization and an occasion for the rediscovery of faith. I especially entrusted those people who suffer and young Cubans to the Blessed Virgin.

The second Cuban stage was Havana, capital of the island. Young people, in particular, were the main protagonists of the exuberant welcome I received on route to the Nunciature, where I had the opportunity of meeting with the bishops of the country to talk about the challenges facing the Church in Cuba, in the knowledge that people look to it with growing confidence. The next day I celebrated Mass in Havana's main square, crowded with people. I reminded them all that Cuba and the world needed change, but this will only happen if everyone is open to the integral truth about man, which is essential for achieving freedom, and if everyone decides to sow the seeds of reconciliation and brotherhood around them, founding the their lives on Jesus Christ: He alone can dispel the darkness of error, helping to defeat the evil and all that oppresses us. I also wanted to reiterate that the Church does not demand privileges, but also to be able to proclaim and celebrate the faith publicly, bringing the Gospel message of hope and peace to every area of society. While appreciating the steps taken by the Cuban authorities so far in this direction, I stressed the need to continue on this path of ever greater religious freedom.

Upon leaving Cuba, tens of thousands of Cubans came to bid me farewell along the way, despite the heavy rain. In the farewell ceremony I remembered that at the present time the various components of Cuban society are called to a collaborative effort of sincere and patient dialogue for the good of their nation. In this perspective, my presence on the island, as a witness of Jesus Christ, wanted to be an encouragement to open the doors of the heart to He, who is a source of hope and strength to nurture the common good. For this I took my leave of the Cuban people urging them to renew the faith of their fathers and build a better future.

This trip to Mexico and Cuba, thank God, has had the desired pastoral success. May the Mexican and the Cuban people reap abundant fruit to build in ecclesial communion and evangelical courage a future of peace and brotherhood.

Dear friends, tomorrow afternoon, with the Holy Mass in Coena Domini, we enter the Easter Triduum, the summit of the liturgical year, to celebrate the central mystery of faith: the passion, death and resurrection of Christ. In the Gospel of St. John, the climax of the mission of Jesus is called his "hour", which opens with the Last Supper. The Evangelist introduces it thus: " Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end" (Jn 13.1 ). The whole life of Jesus is oriented towards this hour, characterized by two aspects that illuminate each other: this is the hour of "passage" (metabasis) and the hour of '"love (agape) until the end." In fact, it is the divine love, the Holy Spirit of which Jesus is filled, which allows Jesus to "pass" through the abyss of evil and death, and sees him emerge into the new "space" of the resurrection. It is the 'agape, the love which brings about this transformation, so that Jesus goes beyond-the limits of the human condition marked by sin and overcomes the barrier that keeps man prisoner, separated from God and eternal life. By participating in faith in the liturgical celebrations of the Paschal Triduum, we are invited to experience this transformation brought about by agape. Each one of us is loved by Jesus "to the end", that is to the total gift of Himself on the cross when he cried: "It is finished!' (Jn 19.30). Let us allow ourselves to be touched by this love, to be transformed, so that the resurrection may really be realized in us. I invite you, therefore, to live the Paschal Triduum intensely, and I wish you all a Holy Easter!