.- Pope Benedict XVI has thanked the Mexican and Cuban people for providing him with six âunforgettable days of joy and hope that will remain etched in my heart.â
âTheir inexhaustible joy, expressed with loud songs and music, as well as their eyes and their gestures, expressed the strong desire of all the children of Mexico, Latin America and the Caribbean to live in peace, serenity and harmony, in a more just and reconciled society,â said Pope Benedict during his April 4 general audience in St. Peterâs Square.
In keeping with his usual custom, the Pope devoted the majority of his first general audience after he traveled to Mexico and Cuba to assessing the visit.
He told the more than 11,000 pilgrims in St. Peterâs Square that memories of the March 23- 28 journey âaroused emotions that are still very much alive,â such that his soul âinstinctively gives thanks to the Lordâ who âin his providence â¦ wanted me to go for the first time as the Successor of Peter to these two countries.â
âWith it I wanted to embrace the entire continent, inviting everyone to live together in hope and in a concrete commitment to walk together toward a better future,â he said.
Pope Benedict first recalled his arrival in the Mexican city of LeÃ³n, where a âlarge cheering crowd gave me an extraordinary, jubilant and lively welcome, as a sign of the warm embrace of an entire population.â
During his visit to Mexico, the Pope expressed deep concern at the levels of drug-related crime and violence that are afflicting the country. He also saw signs of hope, however, in those âendless lines of people along the streetsâ that enthusiastically followed him.
âIn those hands that reached out in a sign of greeting and affection, in those happy faces, in the shouts of joy, I caught the tenacious hope of Mexican Christians,â he said.
And it is a âhope still burning in their hearts despite the difficult times of violence, which I did not fail to deplore, with my heartfelt thoughts for the victims, some of whom I was able to personally comfort.â
He explained how his message to the 600,000 people who attended Sunday Mass in LeÃ³nâs Bicentennial Park was that âthe energy to serve Christ in difficult situations and sufferingâ is born out of the âjoy of being Christian and the joy of belonging to the Church.â
âI urged everyone to trust in the goodness of Almighty God which can change dark and unbearable situations from within, from the heart,â he recalled.
âThe Mexicans responded with their ardent faith, with their convinced adherence to the Gospel, I recognized once again consoling signs of hope for the continent.â
The next day Pope Benedict arrived in Cubaâs second largest city, Santiago de Cuba. His primary aim in visiting the Caribbean island, he explained, was to âto support the mission of the Catholic Church, committed to proclaiming the Gospel with joy.â
At the same time, the Pope did not avoid noting that there is a âpoverty of resourcesâ and that there are difficulties âstill to be overcome so that religion can carry out its spiritual service and its part in formation in the public square of society.â
Before arriving on the island nation, the Pope had suggested that communist Cuba was at a crossroads, stating that âit is evident today that Marxist ideology as it had been conceived no longer responds to reality.â
Today in Rome he reaffirmed this and called upon Cubaâs Catholics to give ânew vigor to their faith and to assist with the courage of forgiveness and understanding, in building an open and renewed societyâ that has âmore room for God.â When God is removed, he warned, âthe world becomes an inhospitable place for humans.â
Cuba and the world needed to change, he said, but that will only happen âif everyone is open to the integral truth about man, which is essential for achieving freedom, and if everyone decides to sow the seeds of reconciliation and brotherhood around them.â
This will also require Cuba to build its civic life upon Jesus Christ, who âalone can dispel the darkness of error, helping to defeat the evil and all that oppresses us.â
The Pope told pilgrims that he appreciated recent steps taken by the Cuban authorities towards greater religious freedom but he also âstressed the need to continue on this pathâ in coming years.
âThe Church does not demand privileges,â he said, âbut also needs to be able to proclaim and celebrate the faith publicly, bringing the Gospel message of hope and peace to every area of society.â
Pope Benedict summarized the success of his trip by saying, this âtrip to Mexico and Cuba, thank God, has had the desired pastoral success.â