Every five years a group of Cuban bishops travel to visit with the Pope and to visit the tomb of St. Peter. On Friday morning the bishops met with Pope Benedict, who told them that, "At this historic moment, the Church in Cuba is called to “offer all Cuban society the only true hope: Our Lord Jesus.”
From the beginning of his talk with the bishops, the Pope pointed to, "the vitality of the Church in Cuba, as well as its unity and its commitment to Jesus Christ".
He also noted that the life of the Church in Cuba has undergone a “profound change” over the last 20 years, and even more so following “the historic visit to Cuba in 1998 by my venerated predecessor Pope John Paul II".
"At this historic moment, the Church in Cuba is called to offer all Cuban society the only true hope: Our Lord Jesus. ... This means that the fomentation of ecclesial life must be given a central role in your aspirations and your pastoral project,” the Holy Father said.
After thanking priests for "their faithfulness and tireless service to the Church and the faithful", the Pope turned to the topic of priestly vocations.
Benedict XVI said that he hoped "an increase in vocations and the simultaneous adoption of appropriate measures in this field, may soon enable the Cuban Church to have a sufficient number of priests, as well as the churches and places of worship necessary to accomplish her strictly pastoral and spiritual mission".
In order to address the need for more native Cuban priests, the Archdiocese of Havana began construction on a new seminary in July 2006. The new seminary will hold more than 100 seminarians.
"It is necessary", Pope Benedict said, that the Church not be afraid of “encouraging the young to follow the footsteps of Christ, Who alone is capable of satisfying their longing for love and happiness". He also urged the bishops to ensure that those in training to be future priests receive "the best possible spiritual, intellectual and human formation". Such training will enable them to identify themselves with the Heart of Christ, and to shoulder "the commitment to the priestly ministry", he said.
The shortage of priests in Cuba and the difficulties faced with obtaining visas for missionary clergy has led the Church in Cuba to stress the formation of the laity to strengthen the Church.
Noting how the bishops pastoral plan calls for the formation of "a committed laity", the Holy Father invited the prelates to encourage "an authentic process of education in the faith at various levels, with the help of well-trained catechists". Other points of formation that the Pope emphasized were, encouraging the "reading and prayerful meditation upon the Word of God", for the faithful, "as well as their frequent attendance at the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist".
The Pope also stressed how, with an "intense spiritual life and the support of a solid religious education", the laity "will be able to offer convincing testimony of their faith in all areas of society, illuminating them with the light of the Gospel. In this context, it is my hope that the Church in Cuba, in keeping with her legitimate aspirations, may enjoy normal access to the social communications media", an area where the government has intervened in the past.
On the subject of the pastoral care of marriage and the family, the Holy Father encouraged the prelates "to redouble their efforts so as to ensure that everyone, and especially the young, gains a better understanding of - and feels ever more attracted by - the beauty of the true values of marriage and the family. At the same time, it is necessary to encourage and offer the appropriate means so that families can exercise their responsibilities, and their fundamental right to a religious and moral education for their children".
Benedict XVI related his joy to the bishops that the Church in Cuba is so generously dedicated to “serving the poorest and the most disadvantaged” and offered his “heartfelt encouragement to continue bringing a visible sign of God's love to those in need, the sick, the elderly and the imprisoned".
The audience with the bishops ended with the Pope saying that he hoped that the approaching beatification of Servant of God Fr. Jose Olallo Valdes "may give fresh impulse to your service to the Church and the people of Cuba, always being a leavening for reconciliation, justice and peace".