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Day: September 20, 2015

Pope Francis urges young Cubans to keep hope alive

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Sunday urged young Cubans to follow a path of hope, built on solidarity and encounter with others. The Pope’s words came in a meeting with several thousand young students gathered at the Fr Felix Varela cultural centre in Havana at the end of his first full day in the Cuban capital. The centre, set up in 2011 by the local Archdiocese with the support of the Pontifical Council for Culture, offers courses in theology, philosophy, sociology, psychology and business administration. It also houses conferences, concerts, exhibitions and co-sponsors Havana’s Latin American film festival.
After listening to the Rector and a young student share their hopes for the future of their country, the Pope spoke off-the-cuff encouraging them to keep alive their dreams and to focus on the things that unite, rather than the things which divide them.
The Pope also spoke about the problem of youth unemployment and the need for young people to create a culture of encounter, urging the students to keep their hearts and minds open, rather than being closed in on themselves.
In his prepared text meanwhile, Pope Francis shared with the students three ways of finding the path of hope in their lives – firstly, by drawing on the memory of their spiritual and moral heritage. Secondly, by journeying together with others and thirdly by showing solidarity, without which, he said, “no country has a future”.
Please find below the prepared text of the Pope’s words to young people in Havana:
Meeting with Students at the Fr. Félix Varela Cultural Center, Havana
Sunday, 20 September 2015
Dear Friends, 
            I am very happy to be with you here in this Cultural Center which is so important for Cuban history.  I thank God for this opportunity to meet so many young people who, by their work, studies and training, are dreaming of, and already making real, the future of Cuba.
            I thank Leonardo for his words of welcome, and particularly because, although he could have spoken about so many other important and concrete things such as our difficulties, fears, and doubts – as real and human as they are – he spoke to us about hope.  He talked to us about those dreams and aspirations so firmly planted in the heart of young Cubans, transcending all their differences in education, culture, beliefs or ideas.  Thank you, Leonardo, because, when I look at all of you, the first thing that comes into my mind and heart, too, is the word “hope”.  I cannot imagine a young person who is listless, without dreams or ideals, without a longing for something greater.
            But what kind of hope does a young Cuban have at this moment of history?  Nothing more or less than that of any other young person in any other part of the world.  Because hope speaks to us of something deeply rooted in every human heart, independently of our concrete circumstances and historical conditioning.  Hope speaks to us of a thirst, an aspiration, a longing for a life of fulfillment, a desire to achieve great things, things which fill our heart and lift our spirit to lofty realities like truth, goodness and beauty, justice and love.  But it also involves taking risks.  It means being ready not to be seduced by what is fleeting, by false promises of happiness, by immediate and selfish pleasures, by a life of mediocrity and self-centeredness, which only fills the heart with sadness and bitterness.  No, hope is bold; it can look beyond personal convenience, the petty securities and compensations which limit our horizon, and can open us up to grand ideals which make life more beautiful and worthwhile.  I would ask each one of you: What is it that shapes your life?  What lies deep in your heart?  Where do your hopes and aspirations lie?  Are you ready to put yourself on the line for the sake of something even greater?
            Perhaps you may say: “Yes, Father, I am strongly attracted to those ideals.  I feel their call, their beauty, their light shining in my heart.  But I feel too weak, I am not ready to decide to take the path of hope.  The goal is lofty and my strength is all too little.  It is better to be content with small things, less grand but more realistic, more within my reach”.  I can understand that reaction; it is normal to feel weighed down by difficult and demanding things.  But take care not to yield to the temptation of a disenchantment which paralyzes the intellect and the will, or that apathy which is a radical form of pessimism about the future.  These attitudes end either in a flight from reality towards vain utopias, or else in selfish isolation and a cynicism deaf to the cry for justice, truth and humanity which rises up around us and within us.
            But what are we to do?  How do we find paths of hope in the situations in which we live?  How do we make those hopes for fulfillment, authenticity, justice and truth, become a reality in our personal lives, in our country and our world?  I think that there are three ideas which can help to keep our hope alive:
             Hope is a path made of memory and discernment.  Hope is the virtue which goes places.  It isn’t simply a path we take for the pleasure of it, but it has an end, a goal which is practical and lights up our way.  Hope is also nourished by memory; it looks not only to the future but also to the past and present.  To keep moving forward in life, in addition to knowing where we want to go, we also need to know who we are and where we come from.  Individuals or peoples who have no memory and erase their past risk losing their identity and destroying their future.  So we need to remember who we are, and in what our spiritual and moral heritage consists.  This, I believe, was the experience and the insight of that great Cuban, Father Félix Varela.  Discernment is also needed, because it is essential to be open to reality and to be able to interpret it without fear or prejudice.  Partial and ideological interpretations are useless; they only disfigure reality by trying to fit it into our preconceived schemas, and they always cause disappointment and despair.  We need discernment and memory, because discernment is not blind; it is built on solid ethical and moral criteria which help us to see what is good and just.
            Hope is a path taken with others.  An African proverb says: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go with others”.  Isolation and aloofness never generate hope; but closeness to others and encounter do.  Left to ourselves, we will go nowhere.  Nor by exclusion will we be able to build a future for anyone, even ourselves.  A path of hope calls for a culture of encounter, dialogue, which can overcome conflict and sterile confrontation.  To create that culture, it is vital to see different ways of thinking not in terms of risk, but of richness and growth.  The world needs this culture of encounter.  It needs young people who seek to know and love one another, to journey together in building a country like that which José Martí dreamed of: “With all, and for the good of all”.
            Hope is a path of solidarity.  The culture of encounter should naturally lead to a culture of solidarity.  I was struck by what Leonardo said at the beginning, when he spoke of solidarity as a source of strength for overcoming all obstacles.  Without solidarity, no country has a future.  Beyond all other considerations or interests, there has to be concern for that person who may be my friend, my companion, but also someone who may think differently than I do, someone with his own ideas yet just as human and just as Cuban as I am.  Simple tolerance is not enough; we have to go well beyond that, passing from a suspicious and defensive attitude to one of acceptance, cooperation, concrete service and effective assistance.  Do not be afraid of solidarity, service and offering a helping hand, so that no one is excluded from the path.
            This path of life is lit up by a higher hope: the hope born of our faith in Christ.  He made himself our companion along the way.  Not only does he encourage us, he also accompanies us; he is at our side and he extends a friendly hand to us.  The Son of God, he wanted to become someone like us, to accompany us on our way.  Faith in his presence, in his friendship and love, lights up all our hopes and dreams.  With him at our side, we learn to discern what is real, to encounter and serve others, and to walk the path of solidarity.
            Dear young people of Cuba, if God himself entered our history and became flesh in Jesus, if he shouldered our weakness and sin, then you need not be afraid of hope, or of the future, because God is on your side.  He believes in you, and he hopes in you.
            Dear friends, thank you for this meeting.  May hope in Christ, your friend, always guide you along your path in life.  And, please, remember to pray for me.  May the Lord bless all of you.
(from Vatican Radio)…

Pope at Vespers: Be a poor and merciful Church in Cuba

(Vatican Radio) Speaking at Vespers in Havana’s Cathedral on Sunday, Pope Francis put aside his prepared homily and spoke from the heart to priests, religious and seminarians, urging them to to be “a poor Church” and to “never tire of showing mercy” to others. The Pope’s words came in response to two opening addresses from the Cardinal Archbishop of Havana, Jaime Ortega, who spoke about the Church in Cuba as poor in resources but rich in solidarity and fraternity, and from a young sister, Yaileny Ponce Torres, who talked of her work at a government-run centre for 200 patients suffering from mental and physical traumas.
The Pope thanked all religious who care for the abandoned, the sick and those whom society would like to “throw away”, reminding them of Jesus words: Whatever you did for the least of my brothers, you did for me.
A full report on the Pope’s words at Vespers will follow –  below please find an English translation of the Pope’s prepared homily at Vespers with priests, religious and seminarians on Sunday:
“We are gathered in this historic Cathedral of Havana to sing with psalms the faithfulness of God towards his people, with thanksgiving for his presence and his infinite mercy.  A faithfulness and mercy not only commemorated by this building, but also by the living memory of some of the elderly among us, who know from experience that “his mercy endures forever and his faithfulness throughout the ages”.  For this, brothers and sisters, let us together give thanks.
Let us give thanks for the Spirit’s presence in the rich and diverse charisms of all those missionaries who came to this land and became Cubans among Cubans, a sign that God’s mercy is eternal.
The Gospel presents Jesus in dialogue with his Father.  It brings us to the heart of the prayerful intimacy between the Father and the Son.  As his hour drew near, Jesus prayed for his disciples, for those with him and for those who were yet to come (cf. Jn 17:20).  We do well to remember that, in that crucial moment, Jesus made the lives of his disciples, our lives, a part of his prayer.  He asked his Father to keep them united and joyful.  Jesus knew full well the hearts of his disciples, and he knows full well our own.  And so he prays to the Father to save them from a spirit of isolation, of finding refuge in their own certainties and comfort zones, of indifference to others and division into “cliques” which disfigure the richly diverse face of the Church.  These are situations which lead to a kind of isolation and ennui, a sadness that slowly gives rise to resentment, to constant complaint, to boredom; this “is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit” (Evangelii Gaudium, 2) to which he invited them, to which he has invited us.  That is why Jesus prays that sadness and isolation will not prevail in our hearts.  We want to do the same, we want to join in Jesus’ prayer, in his words, so that we can say together: “Father, keep them in your name… that they may be one, even as we are one” (Jn 17:11), “that your joy may be complete” (Jn 15:11).
Jesus prays and he invites us to pray, because he knows that some things can only be received as gifts; some things can only be experienced as gifts.  Unity is a grace which can be bestowed upon us only by the Holy Spirit; we have to ask for this grace and do our best to be transformed by that gift.
Unity is often confused with uniformity; with actions, feelings and words which are all identical.  This is not unity, it is conformity.  It kills the life of the Spirit; it kills the charisms which God has bestowed for the good of his people.  Unity is threatened whenever we try to turn others into our own image and likeness.  Unity is a gift, not something to be imposed by force or by decree.  I am delighted to see you here, men and women of different generations, backgrounds and experiences, all united by our common prayer.  Let us ask God to increase our desire to be close to one another.  To be neighbors, always there for one another, with all our many differences, interests and ways of seeing things.  To speak straightforwardly, despite our disagreements and disputes, and not behind each other’s backs.  May we be shepherds who are close to our people, open to their questions and problems. Conflicts and disagreements in the Church are to be expected and, I would even say, needed.  They are a sign that the Church is alive and that the Spirit is still acting, still enlivening her.  Woe to those communities without a “yes” and a “no”!  They are like married couples who no longer argue, because they have lost interest, they have lost their love.
The Lord prays also that we may be filled with his own “complete joy” (cf. Jn 17:13).  The joy of Christians, and especially of consecrated men and women, is a very clear sign of Christ’s presence in their lives.  When we see sad faces, it is a warning that something is wrong.  Significantly, this is the request which Jesus makes of the Father just before he goes out to the Garden to renew his own “fiat”.  I am certain that all of you have had to bear many sacrifices and, for some of you, for several decades now, these sacrifices have proved difficult.  Jesus prays, at the moment of his own sacrifice, that we will never lose the joy of knowing that he overcomes the world.  This certainty is what inspires us, morning after morning, to renew our faith.  “With a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy” – by his prayer, and in the faces of our people – Christ “makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and to start anew” (Evangelii Gaudium, 3).
How important, how valuable for the life of the Cuban people, is this witness which always and everywhere radiates such joy, despite our weariness, our misgivings and even our despair, that dangerous temptation which eats away at our soul!
Dear brothers and sisters, Jesus prays that all of us may be one, and that his joy may abide within us.  May we do likewise, as we unite ourselves to one another in prayer.”
(from Vatican Radio)…

Pope Francis meets former Cuban president Fidel Castro

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Sunday met with former Cuban president Fidel Castro, shortly after celebrating Mass in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución.  The 30-40 minute meeting took place in Fidel Castro’s home, with his wife, children, and grandchildren also present at the encounter. Pope Francis gave Castro several books,  including one by Italian priest Alessandro Pronzato and another by Spanish Jesuit Segundo Llorentea. The Holy Father also gave him a book and two CDs of his homilies, as well as his two encyclical letters, Lumen Fidei and Laudato si’. In return, Castro gave Pope Francis an interview book entitled, “Fidel and Religion,” written in 1985 by Brazilian priest Frei Betto. The dedication reads: “For Pope Francis, on occasion of his visit to Cuba, with the admiration and respect of the Cuban people.” The head of the Vatican Press Office, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, said the meeting was “familiar and informal,” and the two men spoke about “protecting the environment and the great problems of the contemporary world.” Father Lombardi compared the private encounter to that which took place with Pope Benedict XVI in 2012, saying Fidel Castro asked Pope Benedict many questions, while Sunday’s meeting with Pope Francis was “more of a conversation.” (from Vatican Radio)…

Pope Francis in Havana: the face of the person beside you

(Vatican Radio) On the morning of the 20th of September, the first full day of the 10th Apostolic journey to Cuba, the United States and the United Nations of Pope Francis he presided over Holy Mass in Havana’s iconic ‘Plaza de la Revoluciòn highlighting the importance of service for Catholics. The head of Vatican Radio’s English programme Sean Patrick Lovett attended this event and shared with us his impressions.
Listen to  Sean Patrick Lovett’s report: 

I suppose I should be grateful (and, believe me, I am). Not everyone gets the chance to see Plaza de la Revolución, in the heart of Havana, at 6 o’clock in the morning. To stand beneath the haughty gaze of Che Guevara on the very spot where both John Paul II and Benedict XVI celebrated Mass (in 1998 and 2012 respectively).
Fortunately I was not alone. Thousands of people had gathered during the night to catch a glimpse of the man they believe can really make a difference to their lives. In effect, by facilitating the thaw between their island nation and the United States, he already has.
So when  his open pope-mobile arrived to make the traditional ride-through of the crowd, they cheered and sang to the rhythm of a cha-cha and there was much of the usual hand-clapping, flag-agitating and familiar chanting that normally accompanies such outpourings of popular devotion and excitement.
Except for one thing: no one among the throng of faithful was taking selfies. Very few, in fact, were taking pictures at all. Conspicuous by their absence were the ubiquitous smartphones and tablets we’ve become accustomed to see rising above the ocean of faces reflected in their vitreous screens. No one was trying to immortalize this moment in a digital image or to crystalize their own presence here for all posterity. On the contrary, shocking as it may seem, people were actually looking at Pope Francis, making eye contact with him, reaching out and trying to touch him. It was like being back in the 20th century. But when I was told that the average salary here is around $40 a month and that a decent mobile phone costs five time that figure, I understood why.
I also understood why, as I was standing there in Plaza de la Revolución during the Papal Mass, I kept getting an eerie sensation that I was not only witnessing history in the making – I was witnessing history in the un-making. As I look around me here in Havana, I can’t help feeling that the days of those ageless Cuban icons (colourful 1950’s Chevrolets, colonial bodegas and hand-rolled cigars) are numbered. Doubtless some of them will survive, but only as picturesque touristic curiosities to be photographed.  
Apparently, church bells tolled in Havana when the government announced the recent policy change with the United States of America and, certainly, the first fruits of a freer market economy can already be tasted: Cubans are now allowed to buy and sell property and hundreds of contracts are ready to be signed with some of the world’s biggest multinational companies.    
Cuba could be a brave new world in the making, but I wonder what Pope Francis makes of it all? One line, in particular, in his homily at the Mass on Sunday morning, made me stop and think. He was speaking of the importance of service and of caring for what he called “the frailty of our brothers and sisters”. Then he said this: “Do not neglect them for plans which can be seductive but are unconcerned about the face of the person beside you”…
Perhaps, like me, he hopes that, when the time comes, Cubans will still see “the face of the person beside them” – even through their new smartphone.
(from Vatican Radio)…

Pope: ‘See you in Philadelphia’

(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis on Sunday sent a video message to the people of Philadelphia, a week ahead of his arrival there on Saturday, 26 September.
In the video, the Holy Father invites people to attend the events, saying “I look forward to greeting the pilgrims and the people of Philadelphia when I come for the World Meeting of Families.”
Pope Francis’ 10-day Apostolic Journey to Cuba, the United States, and the United Nations in New York is organized to focus on the Pope’s address to the 8th World Meeting of Families taking place in Philadelphia, 22-25 September.
The Pope ends by saying “I will be there because you will be there! See you in Philadelphia!”
The video was released by the World Meeting of Families.
Listen to the audio of the Pope’s message:

(from Vatican Radio)…