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Day: September 21, 2015

The Pope is on the move: today Holguin

(Vatican Radio) The head of Vatican Radio’s English Programme Sean Patrick Lovett is travelling with  Pope Francis in Cuba. As  he tells us:” Yesterday Havana. Today Holguin. Tomorrow Santiago de Cuba”. But let’s listen to his report: 
Listen to Sean Patrick Lovett’s report from Cuba: 

The Pope is on the move.  ” Yesterday Havana. Today Holguin. Tomorrow Santiago de Cuba”. 
And it was time. Time to change the narrative – from political to pastoral.
Inevitably the two days spent in the Cuban capital had strong political connotations, both in terms of who he met, who he didn’t meet, what he said, and what he didn’t.
But this visit is so much more than that. It goes beyond dissidents or peace talks in Colombia, beyond embargoes or even the Castro brothers. It is, first and foremost, a pilgrimage. And it truly got underway today in Holguin – on the Feast of the apostle and evangelist Saint Matthew.
There are no coincidences – certainly not where Pope Francis is concerned. If you really want to understand his pastor’s heart, then read his homily at the Mass in Plaza de la Revolución in Holguín. In it he recounts the story of the conversion of St Matthew. But, between the lines, he is telling the story of his own conversion – the “unlocking” of his own heart that took place in 1953, on the Feast of St Matthew, when Jorge Bergoglio was 17 years old. In the homily he speaks about mercy and mission, about joy and service, transformation, healing and hope (beginning to sound familiar?).
My favorite line is when he invites us to “…look beyond, not to be satisfied with appearances or with what is politically correct”…
By the way, you will also understand why, when he was consecrated Bishop, he chose the motto he did – the same motto he has kept as Pope: “Miserando atque eligendo”. Usually translated as “Lowly but Chosen”, the literal meaning in Latin reads: “By having mercy, by choosing him”. Not many people know that.
And the connections don’t end there. Why bother flying one and a half hours across the island from Havana to Holguín just to say Mass? Because no other Pope has, that’s why. Despite it being Cuba’s third largest city, it was not on the itinerary of either John Paul II when he visited in 1998, or Benedict XVI in 2012. And we all know how much  Pope Francis loves the peripheries, the places (and the people) that are left out.
Tomorrow we’ll be in Santiago de Cuba for the culmination of this papal pilgrimage when Francis will celebrate another Mass and venerate Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, and where he will probably…
Oh, but don’t let me spoil the surprise. When you travel with Pope Francis you really do have to take it one day at a time, trust me.
With the Pope in Cuba – I’m Seán-Patrick Lovett
(from Vatican Radio)…

Pope calls for conversion of hearts and minds in Cuba

(Vatican Radio) Conversion of hearts and minds to Christ: this was the central theme of Pope Francis’s homily at Mass in the Cuban city of Holguin on Monday, the day the Church marks the feast of St Matthew.
Speaking to the crowds gathered in Holguin’s central Revolution Square, the Pope recalled the Gospel story of Matthew’s conversion from tax collector, despised by all around him, to disciple of Jesus, ready and willing to give his life in service to others.
Pope Francis spoke of the powerful and merciful gaze of Jesus, who looked directly at Matthew and said simply, ‘Follow me’. It was a gaze, the Pope said, which “unlocked Matthew’s heart; it set him free, it healed him, it gave him hope, a new life”.
Just as Jesus transformed Matthew’s life through this encounter, the Pope said, He can also “transform our way of seeing things”. He praised the efforts of the Church in Cuba to bring Christ’s word and presence to the remote areas of the Caribbean nation, in particular the so-called “mission houses” which, given the shortage of churches and priests, “provide for many people a place for prayer, for listening to the word of God, for catechesis and community life”.
Please find below the English translation of the Pope’s prepared homily
Homily of Pope Francis for the Mass at Holguín, (Plaza de la Revolución)
            We are celebrating the feast of the apostle and evangelist Saint Matthew.  We are celebrating the story of a conversion.  Matthew himself, in his Gospel, tell us what it was like, this encounter which changed his life.  He shows us an “exchange of glances” capable of changing history.
            On a day like any other, as Matthew, the tax collector, was seated at his table, Jesus passed by, saw him, came up to him and said: “Follow me”.  Matthew got up and followed him.
            Jesus looked at him.  How strong was the love in that look of Jesus, which moved Matthew to do what he did!  What power must have been in his eyes to make Matthew get up from his table!  We know that Matthew was a publican: he collected taxes from the Jews to give to the Romans.  Publicans were looked down upon and considered sinners; as such, they lived apart and were despised by others.  One could hardly eat, speak or pray with the likes of these.  For the people, they were traitors: they extorted from their own to give to others.  Publicans belonged to this social class.
            Jesus, on the other hand, stopped; he did not quickly take his distance.  He looked at Matthew calmly, peacefully.  He looked at him with eyes of mercy; he looked at him as no one had ever looked at him before.  And this look unlocked Matthew’s heart; it set him free, it healed him, it gave him hope, a new life, as it did to Zacchaeus, to Bartimaeus, to Mary Magdalen, to Peter, and to each of us.  Even if we do not dare raise our eyes to the Lord, he looks at us first.  This is our story, and it is like that of so many others.  Each of us can say: “I, too, am a sinner, whom Jesus has looked upon”.  I ask you, in your homes or in the Church, to be still for a moment and to recall with gratitude and happiness those situations, that moment, when the merciful gaze of God was felt in our lives.
            Jesus’ love goes before us, his look anticipates our needs.  He can see beyond appearances, beyond sin, beyond failures and unworthiness.  He sees beyond our rank in society. He sees beyond this, to our dignity as sons and daughters, a dignity at times sullied by sin, but one which endures in the depth of our soul.  He came precisely to seek out all those who feel unworthy of God, unworthy of others.  Let us allow Jesus to look at us.  Let us allow his gaze to run over our streets.  Let us allow that look to become our joy, our hope.
            After the Lord looked upon him with mercy, he said to Matthew: “Follow me.”  Matthew got up and followed him.  After the look, a word.  After love, the mission.  Matthew is no longer the same; he is changed inside.  The encounter with Jesus and his loving mercy has transformed him.  He leaves behind his table, his money, his exclusion.  Before, he had sat waiting to collect his taxes, to take from others; now, with Jesus he must get up and give, give himself to others.  Jesus looks at him and Matthew encounters the joy of service.  For Matthew and for all who have felt the gaze of Jesus, other people are no longer to be “lived off”, used and abused.  The gaze of Jesus gives rise to missionary activity, service, self-giving.  Jesus’ love heals our short-sightedness and pushes us to look beyond, not to be satisfied with appearances or with what is politically correct.
            Jesus goes before us, he precedes us; he opens the way and invites us to follow him.  He invites us slowly to overcome our preconceptions and our reluctance to think that others, much less ourselves, can change.  He challenges us daily with the question: “Do you believe?  Do you believe it is possible that a tax collector can become a servant?  Do you believe it is possible that a traitor can become a friend?  Do you believe is possible that the son of a carpenter can be the Son of God?”  His gaze transforms our way of seeing things, his heart transforms our hearts.  God is a Father who seeks the salvation of each of his sons and daughters.
            Let us gaze upon the Lord in prayer, in the Eucharist, in Confession, in our brothers and sisters, especially those who feel excluded or abandoned.  May we learn to see them as Jesus sees us.  Let us share his tenderness and mercy with the sick, prisoners, the elderly and families in difficulty.  Again and again we are called to learn from Jesus, who always sees what is most authentic in every person, which is the image of his Father.
            I know the efforts and the sacrifices being made by the Church in Cuba to bring Christ’s word and presence to all, even in the most remote areas.  Here I would mention especially the “mission houses” which, given the shortage of churches and priests, provide for many people a place for prayer, for listening to the word of God, for catechesis and community life.  They are small signs of God’s presence in our neighborhoods and a daily aid in our effort to respond to the plea of the apostle Paul: “I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”  (cf. Eph 4:1-3).
            I now turn my eyes to the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, whom Cuba embraced and to whom it opened its doors forever.  I ask Our Lady to look with maternal love on all her children in this noble country.  May her “eyes of mercy” ever keep watch over each of you, your homes, your families, and all those who feel that they have no place.  In her love, may she protect us all as she once cared for Jesus.
(from Vatican Radio)…

When Pope Francis speaks from the heart

The invitation of Pope Francis to priests and the religious (in Cuba and elsewhere) to give of themselves completely to the poor is actually a call of the Gospel.
News outlets said Pope Francis had “ditched” his prepared speech in Havana’s Cathedral of the Virgin Mary of Immaculate Conception to speak off-the-cuff. The Guardian called it Pope Francis going “unplugged.”
There is no surprise here. In 2013 when he met Jesuit students, teachers and parents from Jesuit schools in Italy and Albania he told them, “I prepared this address for you… but it is five pages long! Somewhat boring… Let’s do something else” and he went on to do just that.  It is now to be expected that when Pope Francis thinks it appropriate, he will put aside his prepared remarks.
Whichever way you look at it, Pope Francis has a liberated way of being himself and speaking from the heart. When he does, he often leaves us with gems that can sometimes go unnoticed. He did precisely this in Havana when he spoke to seminarians, priests, religious men and women.
At the vespers, in Havana, Pope Francis told his congregation about a certain wise old priest who once told him about the dangers of priests and sisters accumulating too much wealth for themselves.
“When the spirit of wealth goes to the heart of a consecrated person, a priest, a Bishop, a Pope, when you begin to accumulate money to secure the future…When, for example, a religious congregation begins to raise (too much) money, God is so kind that he will send a disastrous bursar who will make a mess of the accounts. This blessing of God to his Church, disastrous bursars, help us to become ‘poor’ again and free (from too much wealth).”
No doubt many a Bishop or Mother Superior who have dealt with incompetent accountants or bad financial managers will not be too amused with Pope Francis’ statement. Yet Pope Francis is not encouraging bad financial practices. He is speaking of excessive attachment to money and worldly possessions that can lead any cleric or religious person to lose focus of the Gospel message as contained in the Beatitudes.
So what did Pope Francis mean when he told his Havana audience, “riches impoverish you, riches take away the best of what you have… that richness which is trust in God?”
There are many forms of poverty. In his earthly life, Jesus was no stranger to poverty. He understood the suffering that poor people experienced. It is for this reason that whenever he could, Jesus always tried to lighten the burden of the poor.  To quote Pope Francis again when he spoke to Jesuit students back then, “Poverty in the world is a scandal. In a world where there is so much wealth, so many resources to feed everyone, it is unfathomable that there are so many hungry children, that there are so many children without an education, so many poor persons. Poverty today is a cry. We all have to think if we can become a little poorer, all of us have to do this. How can I become a little poorer in order to be more like Jesus, who was the poor Teacher?” said Pope Francis.
The invitation of Pope Francis to priests and the religious (in Cuba and elsewhere) to give of themselves completely to the poor is actually a call of the Gospel. In fact, it is a call for all who believe and follow Christ. 
(Fr. Paul Samasumo, Vatican Radio)
(from Vatican Radio)…

Pope to pray before the Patron Saint of Cuba

(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis on Monday travels from the Cuban capital, Havana, to visit Holguin and Santiago de Cuba on the eastern tip of the Caribbean island nation. 
Both cities are closely linked to the famous statue of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, formally declared patroness of the Cuban people by Pope Benedict XV a century ago.
Philippa Hitchen reports on this second stage of the Pope’s pastoral visit to Cuba :

The city of Holguin is famed as the birthplace of Cuba’s revolutionary leader Fidel Castro and his brother Raul, who between them have ruled the country since 1959. It’s also known for its five-metre high cross on the hillside that looks out over the city , where Pope Francis will stop to pray after celebrating Mass in the main square.
It was not far from the city of Holguin that Christopher Columbus first landed in Cuba in 1492 and it was in the bay there that three local fishermen first saw Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, floating on the water in 1612.
The small wooden statue of Our Lady, wearing a gold mantle and holding the Infant Jesus in her left arm, is now housed in the shrine dedicated to her in the nearby city of Santiago de Cuba where the Pope will conclude his journey to the island nation.
Over the centuries many miracles have been attributed to Our Lady who’s seen as a powerful symbol of liberation during the struggle for independence from the Spanish and for the slaves, brought in to work the copper mines in the early 16th century. Descendants of those African slaves make up over 30 percent of Cuba’s population, yet they remain amongst the poorest inhabitants of the country.
Both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI came to pray at the shrine during their trips to Cuba and another famous visitor, author Ernest Hemingway, left his Nobel medal for Literature there as a sign of gratitude for the warm welcome he received from the people of Cuba.
Pope Francis will join the crowds of other pilgrims down the centuries who’ve come to pray before the statue of La Mambisa, as she’s popularly known. He’ll celebrate Mass there on Tuesday and rededicate the nation to her, before travelling on to Washington D.C. with the hopes of encouraging the ongoing ‘miracle’ of reconciliation between Cuba and the United States.  
(from Vatican Radio)…

Editorial of the Director of "L’Osservatore Romano": The urgent need for peace

For the third time in less than 20 years a
pope is in Cuba: the first was John Paul II
in January 1998, then Benedict XVI in March 2012 and now
Francis, the first American Pontiff, takes his turn. With this journey he has
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 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. 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 “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 on the urgent need for
peace. 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 decades of armed conflict — the longest currently
underway — has shed the blood of thousands. “Please, we do not have the right
to allow ourselves yet another failure on this path”, he implored, openly
supporting negotiations. 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” overlooked by plans which may be seductive. g.m.v….