.- Shortly after arriving in Cuba, Pope Benedict XVI encouraged the nation to embrace moral values that will contribute to building “a better future.”
During his opening speech, the Pope urged the country to work towards “real progress,” that requires “an ethics which focuses on the human person and takes account of the most profound human needs, especially man’s spiritual and religious dimension.”
After concluding his 3-day trip to Mexico, Pope Benedict arrived at the Antonio Maceo International Airport in Santiago de Cuba on the afternoon of March 26.
In a welcoming ceremony, he greeted President Raúl Castro, government authorities, and the local bishops, and then expressed his “heartfelt affection” for the local Church and all Cubans.
“You are always present in my heart and prayers, especially in the days preceding the much anticipated moment of my visit to you,” he said.
The Pope recalled Blessed John Paul II’s “historic visit” to Cuba in 1998, saying that it “left an indelible mark on the soul of all Cubans.”
He observed that many Cubans, including non-Catholics, saw his predecessor as “a luminous guide for their personal lives and their public activity in the service of the common good of the nation.”
“His visit to this island was like a gentle breath of fresh air which gave new strength to the Church in Cuba,” Pope Benedict said.
The Holy Father welcomed the “new spirit of cooperation and trust” between Church and State in Cuba that was ushered in by John Paul II’s visit.
At the same time, he acknowledged a need for growth, especially in the “indispensable public contribution that religion is called to make in the life of society.”
The Pope said that he shares in the country’s joy in celebrating the four hundredth anniversary of the discovery of the statue of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, whom he called “the true mother of the Cuban people.”
Devotion to Our Lady has sustained many people in their faith and inspired them to work for the promotion of “all that gives dignity to the human condition and its fundamental rights,” he observed.
The Pope said that he looks forward to following in the footsteps of countless pilgrims throughout the centuries who have knelt in front of the statue in El Cobre.
He explained that he will thank Our Lady for her concern for her Cuban children and ask her “to guide the future of this beloved nation in the ways of justice, peace, freedom and reconciliation.”
“I come to Cuba as a pilgrim of charity, to confirm my brothers and sisters in the faith and strengthen them in the hope which is born of the presence of God’s love in our lives,” he said.
Pope Benedict observed that many parts of the world are experiencing economic difficulties that can be regarded “as part of a profound spiritual and moral crisis.”
Lacking values, humanity has been left “defenseless before the ambition and selfishness of certain powers which take little account of the true good of individuals and families,” he said.
“We can no longer continue in the same cultural and moral direction which has caused the painful situation that many suffer,” the Pope warned.
Many are realizing that “the rebirth of society demands upright men and women of firm moral convictions,” he said, observing the need for “noble and strong values” that will resist manipulation, as well as a strong respect for “the unchanging and transcendent nature of the human person.”
The Pope emphasized that the Catholic Church remains committed to serving Cubans “at this moment of particular importance in its history.”
Through her pastoral mission and the cultivation of “the fine patrimony of spiritual and moral values which fashioned the nation’s true identity,” the Church can aid Cuba in its efforts “to renew and broaden its horizons,” he said.