.- Auxiliary Bishop Juan de Dios Hernandez of Havana said that Pope Benedict will arrive in Cuba as a “pilgrim of charity” during his visit to the country in March.
The upcoming trip will be “a great blessing for the country,” Bishop Hernandez told CNA on Jan. 5.
The pontiff's March 26-28 visit comes as the Church in Cuba celebrates the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the statue of Our Lady of Charity in waters off the coast of Cuba.
Pope Benedict XV declared her the patroness of Cuba in 1916.
Bishop Hernandez said papal visit taking place in the context of the celebration “confirms charity as a virtue that should unite the entire nation of Cuba, and not only Christians.”
He said the Church in Cuba is preparing a special catechetical program to help introduce the Pope to the Cuban people, “as not everyone is aware of his pastoral work as the representative of the Church.”
Bishop Hernandez said each diocese will likely organize cultural and folkloric events including dance and art exhibits to celebrate the Holy Father’s visit.
He also noted that the Church in Cuba has declared a Jubilee Year to mark the 400th anniversary of the devotion to Our Lady of Charity and that throughout the year, the faithful would have the opportunity each month to participate in “great moments of encounter with God through Our Lady.”
Pope Benedict XVI will arrive in the Cuban city of Santiago on March 26. He will celebrate an outdoor Mass there and spend the night in the town of El Cobre.
On March 27 he will visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity and then depart to Havana. That afternoon he will meet with President Raul Castro and then with the bishops of Cuba. On March 28 he will conclude the visit with an outdoor Mass in Havana’s Revolution Square.
Relations between the Church and Cuba have improved in recent years thanks to the ongoing dialogue between Raul Castro and Cardinal Jaime Ortega of Havana. The talks have led to release of more than 100 prisoners of conscience in 2010 and 2011.