(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis began his apostolic visit to Cuba Saturday, touching down in the nation’s capital Havana where he was greeted by the country’s president Raúl Castro, other authorities, and bishops.
The Holy Father’s 19-22 September visit to the island nation coincides with the eightieth anniversary of the renewal of diplomatic relations between the Republic of Cuba and the Holy See.
This year, the country also celebrates one hundred years since our Lady of Charity of El Cobre was named patroness of Cuba by Pope Benedict XV.
Pope Francis is the third pontiff to go to the Caribbean nation, which was visited by Saint John Paul II in 1998, and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in 2012.
Please find below the full prepared text of Pope Francis’s speech at the welcoming ceremony at the Havana airport:
Mr President, Distinguished Authorities, Brother Bishops, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I thank you, Mr President, for your greeting and your kind words of welcome in the name of the government and the entire Cuban people. I also greet the authorities and the members of the diplomatic corps present at this ceremony.
My gratitude also goes to Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino, Archbishop of Havana, the Most Reverend Dionisio Guillermo García Ibáñez, Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba and President of the Episcopal Conference, the other bishops and all the Cuban people, for their warm welcome.
I thank, too, all those who worked to prepare for this Pastoral Visit. Mr President, I would ask you to convey my sentiments of particular respect and consideration to your brother Fidel. I would like my greeting to embrace especially all those who, for various reasons, I will not be able to meet, and to Cubans throughout the world.
This year of 2015 marks the eightieth anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Republic of Cuba and the Holy See. Providence today enables me to come to this beloved nation, following the indelible path opened by the unforgettable apostolic journeys which my two predecessors, Saint John Paul II and Benedict XVI, made to this island. I know that the memory of those visits awakens gratitude and affection in the people and leaders of Cuba. Today we renew those bonds of cooperation and friendship, so that the Church can continue to support and encourage the Cuban people in its hopes and concerns, with the freedom, the means and the space needed to bring the proclamation of the Kingdom to the existential peripheries of society.
This Apostolic Journey also coincides with the first centenary of Pope Benedict XV’s declaration of our Lady of Charity of El Cobre as Patroness of Cuba. It was the veterans of the War of Independence who, moved by sentiments of faith and patriotism, wanted the Virgen mambisa to be the patroness of Cuba as a free and sovereign nation. Since that time she has accompanied the history of the Cuban people, sustaining the hope which preserves people’s dignity in the most difficult situations and championing the promotion of all that gives dignity to the human person. The growing devotion to the Virgin is a visible testimony of her presence in the soul of the Cuban people. In these days I will have occasion to go to El Cobre, as a son and pilgrim, to pray to our Mother for all her Cuban children and for this beloved nation, that it may travel the paths of justice, peace, liberty and reconciliation.
Geographically, Cuba is an archipelago, facing all directions, with an extraordinary value as a “key” between north and south, east and west. Its natural vocation is to be a point of encounter for all peoples to join in friendship, as José Martí dreamed, “regardless of the languages of isthmuses and the barriers of oceans” (La Conferencia Monetaria de las Repúblicas de América, in Obras escogidas II, La Habana, 1992, 505). Such was also the desire of Saint John Paul II, with his ardent appeal: “May Cuba, with all its magnificent potential, open itself to the world, and may the world open itself to Cuba” (Arrival Ceremony, 21 January 1998, 5).
For some months now, we have witnessed an event which fills us with hope: the process of normalizing relations between two peoples following years of estrangement. It is a sign of the victory of the culture of encounter and dialogue, “the system of universal growth” over “the forever-dead system of groups and dynasties” (José Martí, loc. cit.). I urge political leaders to persevere on this path and to develop all its potentialities as a proof of the high service which they are called to carry out on behalf of the peace and well-being of their peoples, of all America, and as an example of reconciliation for the entire world.
I place these days under the protection of our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, Blessed Olallo Valdés and Blessed José López Pietreira, and Venerable Félix Varela, the great promoter of love between Cubans and all peoples, so that our bonds of peace, solidarity and mutual respect may ever increase.
Once again, thank you, Mr. President.
(from Vatican Radio)…
(Vatican Radio) The family of Syrian refugees being hosted by the Vatican parish of Santa Anna had the opportunity to thank Pope Francis for his hospitality towards them on Saturday morning.
Their visit came shortly before the Holy Father departed for Cuba and the United States.
The Syrian family, accompanied by the Pontifical Almoner Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, met Pope Francis briefly at the Santa Marta residence to say thank you and to wish him a safe trip.
On Friday evening (September 18), Pope Francis visited the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome for a moment of prayer before his 10th Apostolic Voyage as Pontiff.
It has become traditional for the Holy Father to visit the Papal Basilica and to pray before the Salus Populi Romani (Protectress of the Roman People) image of the Blessed Virgin Mary before a trip.
Click here to learn more about the family hosted by the Santa Anna parish in the Vatican City State.
(from Vatican Radio)…
(Vatican Radio) On the 19th of September Pope Francis will become the third pope to visit Cuba in the past 17 years, following in the footsteps of Saint John Paul II in 1998 and Benedict XVI, now pope emeritus in 2012 .
During his stay in Cuba his schedule includes the celebration of three Holy Masses with the Cuban faithful before flying to the United States on the 22nd of September.
As we know Cuba has a strong Marian devotion and one of the masses Pope Francis will preside over will take place at the National Shrine of “Our Lady of Charity of Cobre”.
But the Catholic Church in Cuba doesn’t only have a strong Marian devotion it also has some key figures to its name. Among these the Servant of God Félix Varela and the man to inherit his legacy José Marti. And on the evening of the 20th of September while in Havana Pope Francis will visit a cultural centre dedicated to Varela, the ‘Centro de Estudio P.Félix Varela’.
A programme presented and produced by Veronica Scarisbrick:
To find out more about these two figures Veronica Scarisbrick steps back in time to that first historic visit of John Paul II to Cuba in 1998. A journey which took him on the 23rd of January of that year to the University of Havana where he venerated the relics of this great priest and patriot whom he described on this occasion as the true ‘Father’ of Cuban culture:
“He is, in his own person, the best synthesis one could find of Christian faith and Cuban culture. An exemplary priest of Havana and an undeniable patriot, Fr Varela was an outstanding thinker who in 19th-century Cuba renewed the method and content of teaching in philosophy, law, science and theology. To generations of Cubans, he taught that to assume full responsibility for our existence we must first learn the difficult art of thinking in a right way and with our own mind. He was the first to speak of independence in these lands. He also spoke of democracy, judging it to be the political project best in keeping with human nature, while at the same time underscoring its demands. Among these demands, he stressed two in particular: first, that people must be educated for freedom and responsibility, with a personally assimilated ethical code which includes the best of the heritage of civilization and enduring transcendental values, so that they may be able to undertake decisive tasks in service of the community; and second, that human relationships, like the form of society as a whole, must give people suitable opportunities to perform, with proper respect and solidarity, their historic role giving substance to the rule of law, which is the essential guarantee of every form of human concourse claiming to be democratic.
During this visit to the University of Havana Pope John Paul also highlighted Father Varela’s awareness that in his time, independence was as yet unattainable ideal and so devoted his time to training people, men and women of conscience, who were neither high-handed with the weak nor weak with the powerful. And again how during his New York exile, he used a range of means to pursue his goal: personal letters, the press and what might be judged his finest work, Letters to Elpidio concerning impiety, superstition and fanaticism in relation to society, a true monument of moral teaching, his precious legacy to the young people of Cuba. How in the last 30 years of his life, far away from Havana, he continued to teach from afar and so gave birth to a school of thought, a vision of human society and an attitude towards one’s own country which even today should enlighten all Cubans. The entire life of Fr Varela, Pope John Paul remarked was inspired by a profound Christian spirituality:
“This was his deep driving-force, the wellspring of his virtues, the root of his commitment to the Church and to Cuba: to seek the glory of God in all things. This led him to believe in the power of little things, in the creative force of seeds of truth, in the appropriateness of changes being made step by step towards great and authentic reforms. “…. “Christ is the way which leads man to the fullness of life, the way which leads to a society which is more just, more free, more human, more caring. The love for Christ and for Cuba which illumined Fr Varela’s life is part of the indestructible root of Cuban culture. A legacy taken up, shortly after his death, by another striking figure of this country, José Martí: a writer and a teacher in the fullest sense of the word, deeply committed to democracy and independence, a patriot, a loyal friend even to those who did not share his political programme. He was above all an enlightened man, faithful to his ethical values and stirred by a spirituality the roots of which are outstandingly evangelical. He is regarded as the heir of the thought of Fr Varela, whom he called “the Cuban saint”.
(from Vatican Radio)…
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis said he will “do everything possible to build bridges, to remove barriers, and to foster communication” between Cuba and the United States during his 10-day visit to the two countries.
“That communication can then bring about friendship,” he said during a teleconference aired by CNN en Español on Friday.
The Holy Father was answering questions from students in Havana and New York in an ecounter which was organized with the charity “Scholas occurrentes.”
The question about the US embargo on Cuba came from a student in Havana.
“One of the nicest things is the friendship among societies,” Pope Francis said. “That is what I would like you to want: a friendship among societies.”
Asked by another Cuban student about his style of leadership, Pope Francis said, “a good leader is one who is capable of bringing up other leaders. If a leader wants to lead alone, he is a tyrant. True leadership is fruitful. Each one of you has the seed of leadership.”
“The leaders of today will not be here tomorrow,” said Pope Francis. “If they do not plant the seed of leadership in others, then they are no good, they are dictators.”
Pope Francis also spoke about the rights of children to an education, saying “we are in a time of crisis in the world when it comes to education.”
“Think the number of children in countries that are at war right now, with no education. Thousands and thousands of children,” he said.
“It is a challenge. It is a challenge that must be faced. And we have to start,” the Pope said.
Pope Francis challenged young people to not wait until the governments come to an agreement, but called on them to “educate each other,” and commended those who gave up holidays and weekends to teach others.
Pope Francis also said an important part of education is playing, because that is where you learn “how to be social, and how to enjoy life.”
“We have lost track of the number of children who do not have the pleasure of being able to play, because of war, poverty, or because they live on the street,” he said.
During the encounter, Pope Francis also said young people need to start taking care of the environment, saying it is “shouting for us to pay attention.”
“First of all, see the problems in your neighborhood, your city, and your country. What environmental problems exist?” said the Pope, urging them to look for concrete ways to act.
Pope Francis ended the encounter by telling the young people “Do not be afraid,” adding “fear paralyzes.” He reminded them the future in their hands.
(from Vatican Radio)…