.- The Archdiocese of Miami is organizing a pilgrimage to Cuba for the visit of Pope Benedict XVI, Archbishop Thomas Wenski announced Jan. 12.
“We travel in solidarity with the Church in Cuba – and in response to their invitation to share with them this historic event,” he said at a Jan. 12 press conference. “The Pope travels to Cuba as a pilgrim of charity. We go to Cuba in the same spirit.”
The archbishop cited the Spanish-language theme of the visit, “A Jesus por Maria, la Caridad nos une,” which means “To Jesus through Mary, love makes us one.”
Pope Benedict’s March 26-28 visit comes as the Catholic Church in Cuba celebrates the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the statue of Our Lady of Charity in waters off the coast of Cuba. Pope Benedict XV declared her the patroness of Cuba in 1916.
Pilgrims from the Miami archdiocese will travel to Cuba under two possible plans. One includes stops in both Santiago and Havana, while the other another includes a trip to Havana alone. The archdiocese’s travel agency is awaiting final permits for the aircraft.
The travel arrangements will be handled by a travel agency authorized by the U.S. Department of the Treasury. All legal guidelines will be followed, the archbishop said.
The U.S. and Cuban governments have been at odds since the Cuban communists took power in 1959. Travel between the island country and the U.S. is heavily restricted.
“Since this travel is for religious purposes one does not need to be Cuban or Cuban-American in order to travel to participate in the papal visit,” Archbishop Wenski explained.
The first set of Miami pilgrims plan to leave Miami for Santiago, Cuba on March 26. The group will travel to the city’s Plaza de la Revolucion Antonio Maceo, where Pope Benedict XVI will celebrate Mass for the Feast of the Annunciation.
They will then fly to the capital city of Havana, where they may be joined by other American pilgrims who are planning to stop only in Havana.
On March 27, Archbishop Thomas Wenski will celebrate Mass in Havana’s cathedral. The next day the group will attend the papal Mass at the Plaza de la Revolucion Jose Marti. They will leave Havana for Miami on March 29.
The archbishop told the Miami Herald he expects several hundred pilgrims from South Florida to participate. Many Cuban expatriates, exiles and refugees have settled in the Miami area.
Relations between the Catholic Church and the Cuban government have improved in recent years thanks to ongoing dialogue between Raul Castro and Cardinal Jaime Ortega of Havana.
Archbishop Wenski told the Herald that he hopes the papal trip will promote “the reconciliation of people” and will “affirm the faith of the Church” and perhaps “open up Cuban society to the world.”