.- Pope Benedict XVI committed Cuba's future to the intercession of the Virgin Mary, as he prayed for the suffering and oppressed during his visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Cobre on March 27.
“Let all those you meet know, whether near or far, that I have entrusted to the Mother of God the future of your country, advancing along the ways of renewal and hope, for the greater good of all Cubans,” he announced, after spending time in prayer before the statue of the “Virgin of Charity.”
Pope Benedict's visit to Cuba comes during a Jubilee Year commemorating the 400th anniversary of the finding of the statue, discovered floating off the island's coast. Found by two native Cubans and a young slave boy, the image of Our Lady of Cobre remains a beloved symbol of the Cuban Catholic Church.
After a private Mass at Santiago de Cuba's St. Basil the Great Seminary, the Pope traveled to El Cobre on Tuesday morning, where he was welcomed by Archbishop Dionisio G. Ibáñez. Pope Benedict knelt before the statue, lit a candle and recited a traditional prayer.
As he blessed the Cuban faithful gathered outside the shrine, the Pope told them he had “prayed to the Virgin for the needs of those who suffer, of those who are deprived of freedom, those who are separated from their loved ones or who are undergoing times of difficulty.”
Mary's presence in El Cobre is “a gift from heaven for all Cubans,” Pope Benedict said.
“I have placed in her Immaculate Heart your young people, that they may be authentic friends of Christ and not succumb to things which bring sadness in their wake.”
During his time in prayer with the Virgin of Charity, the Pope prayed particularly for the descendents of Africans in Cuba, as well as the inhabitants of nearby Haiti.
He also expressed his care for many rural Cubans “who wish to live the Gospel deeply in their homes and who offer their homes as mission centers for the celebration of Mass.”
“Receive the affection of the Pope and carry it with you from this place,” he told the assembled crowd, “so that everyone can experience consolation and strength in faith.”
“Following the example of the Most Holy Virgin, I encourage all the sons and daughters of this dear country to continue to build their lives on the firm rock which is Jesus Christ,” he declared, calling Cubans “to work for justice, to be servants of charity and to persevere in the midst of trials.
“May nothing or no one take from you your inner joy which is so characteristic of the Cuban soul. May God bless you. Thank you very much.”
After his visit to the shrine, Pope Benedict departed for the airport in Santiago de Cuba, from which he will fly to Havana.