Cardinal Jaime Ortega of Havana expressed gratitude to Pope Benedict XVI for considering a trip to the country in the spring of 2012.
Cardinal Ortega told reporters on Nov. 11 that the Pope “has given priority to Cuba,” adding “the fact that he chose us has great significance.”
He recalled Pope John Paul II’s visit to Cuba in 1998 and said it had a profound impact “on our history as a Church and also on our nation. There is something in the way we see things that made it possible for that trip to leave a mark on us.”
He said the reasons for the trip are related to the improving relations with the Communist government, which paved the way in 2010 for the first massive national pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity since Fidel Castro took power in 1959.
“Let’s look at the map of Latin America. He has not visited many countries. But (the Pope) said, 'I want to encourage the Cuban people, especially next year as they commemorate the 400th anniversary of the presence of Our Lady of Charity,'” Cardinal Ortega said.
The Bishops’ Conference of Cuba issued a statement saying that they “welcome with great joy and hope the news of a visit.”
“We received this joyful news as a gift of Our Lady of Charity, the Mother of all Cubans, whom the Holy Father will venerate as a pilgrim together with all of us during the Jubilee Year,” the bishops said.
Pope Benedict XVI’s visit would coincide with the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the image of Our Lady of Charity in the waters of Cuba’s coast. The image was crowned by Pope John Paul II during his 1998 visit.