"I think the Holy Father welcomed Cardinal Ortega’s invitation to come to Cuba… I hope the Holy Father will visit Cuba in the future,” Cardinal Bertone said during a homily delivered to thousands of Cubans gathered for Mass in front of Havana’s Cathedral on Thursday evening.
The remarks by the Vatican’s number two came after the archbishop of Havana, Cardinal Jamie Ortega y Alamino, reiterated a 2005 invitation for a papal visit in his welcoming address to Bertone. "I hope the visit of these days may be a good omen for a visit by our beloved Benedict XVI," said the cardinal.
The exchange was received by sustained applause from the crowd of 3,000 faithful, nuns, priests and delegates of other Christian religions as well as Cuban authorities.
Among the crowd in the square fronting the Cathedral, placards could be seen with the same invitation written on them: "Cuba espera a Benedicto XVI", or alternatively the words that John Paul II challenged Cubans with in 1998: "Be not afraid, open your hearts to Christ".
The two-hour Mass ended with Cardinal Bertone giving Cardinal Ortega an unexpected present: a chasuble of John Paul II’s, also received by applause from the crowd.
Also present for the Mass was a group of "Damas de blanco"—Ladies of White—mothers, wives, sisters and daughters of the 75 political prisoners arrested in March 2003. Out of those 75, twenty have been released for health reasons, while 55 are still in prison, serving about 20-year sentences.
“We are here so that Cardinal Bertone and the Pope may intercede with the government for releasing our relatives” – said Miriam Leiva and Laura Pollàn – “who have been in prison for years just because they dared voice their opinions”.