2012-03-28 Vatican RadioPope Benedict on Tuesday morning made a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre situated in the foothills of the Siera Madre mountains near the Cuban city of Santiago, the last stop on his agenda there before heading to the capital Havana. Philippa Hitchen is in Cuba with Pope Benedict and sends this report:
Well before dawn a small crowd of Cuban Catholics gathered outside the shrine dedicated to La Mambisa, as local people call the miraculous statue of Our Lady of Charity. Queuing patiently for the endless police checks that precede your every move here, they had plenty of time to reflect on the many miracles attributed to the small wooden statue, a powerful symbol of liberation over the past four centuries for independence from the Spanish colonisers and for the slaves brought in to work the copper mines on which this port city was founded in the early 16th century.
In his brief greeting, after kneeling in prayer and lighting a candle in front of the statue, Pope Benedict had special words for Cubans descended from those African slaves who make up over 30 percent of the population, but who are often among the poorest inhabitants of the island. The Pope said he also prayed for the needs of all who suffer here, of those deprived of their freedom, those separated from their loved ones and those in other difficult situations.
People clapped politely as he waved goodbye at the end of his last stop here in Santiago. A steel band played and children pressed their faces against the gates of the shrine to watch his car disappear down the road between dilapidated, low brick houses with corrugated iron roofs. The rector of the Shrine, Fr Jorge Palma, said he hoped the brief visit would bring many blessings to the Church here, just as the visit of John Paul II did some 14 years ago. Maybe not any overnight miracles, but at least the knowledge that people here are not forgotten as they continue the struggle for freedom, justice and decent living standards for all.
Below the full text of Pope Benedict XVI’s address at the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity :
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.