On the Trip to Mexico and Cuba

"When God is excluded, the world becomes a place inhospitable to man"

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VATICAN CITY, APRIL 4, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the Italian-language catechesis Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience held in St. Peter’s Square. He offered a review of his recent apostolic trip to Mexico and Cuba, as well as giving a reflection on the Sacred Triduum.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

The emotions evoked within me during my recent Apostolic Journey to Mexico and Cuba are still alive, and today I wish to focus upon this journey. Thanksgiving to the Lord arises spontaneously from my soul: in His providence, He willed that I should go for the first time as the Successor of Peter to these two countries, which indelibly preserve the memory of the visits of Blessed John Paul II. The bicentennial of the Independence of Mexico and of other Latin American countries, the twentieth anniversary of diplomatic relations between Mexico and the Holy See, and the fourth centenary of the discovery of the image of the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre in the Republic of Cuba served as the occasions for my pilgrimage. Through it, I wanted to embrace the entire Continent, inviting everyone to live together in hope and in the concrete commitment to journey united toward a better future. I am grateful to the Presidents of Mexico and Cuba, who welcomed me with deference and courtesy, as well as to the other authorities. I offer heartfelt thanks to the Archbishops of León, Santiago de Cuba and Havana and to the other venerable brothers in the episcopate who received me with great affection, as well as to their collaborators and all those who so generously gave their very best for this, my pastoral visit. They were unforgettable days of joy and hope that will remain impressed upon my heart!

The first stop was León, in the State of Guanajuato, Mexico’s geographic centre. Here a large and jubilant crowd gave me an extraordinary and lively welcome as a sign of the warm embrace of an entire people. From the outset of the welcoming ceremony, I was able to grasp the faith and warmth of the priests, consecrated persons and lay faithful. In the presence of members of the Institutions, of numerous Bishops and representatives of society, I recalled the need to recognize and protect the fundamental rights of the human person, among which religious freedom stands out in a particular way, and I assured my closeness to all those who suffer due to social ills, old and new conflicts, and corruption and violence.

With deep gratitude, I remember the endless lines of people along the streets who accompanied me with enthusiasm. In those hands outstretched as a sign of their greeting and affection, in those happy faces, and in those shouts of joy I grasped the tenacious hope of Christians in Mexico, a hope still burning in their hearts despite difficult moments of violence, which I did not fail to grieve over, and to whose victims I addressed my heartfelt thoughts, some of whom I was able personally to comfort. The same day, I met with many children and adolescents, who are the nation’s and the Church’s future. Their inexhaustible happiness, expressed in loud songs and music as well as in their looks and gestures, expressed the deeply felt desire of all the youth of Mexico, Latin America and the Caribbean to be able to live in peace, serenity and harmony, in a more just and reconciled society.

The disciples of the Lord must augment the joy of being Christians, the joy of belonging to His Church. This joy gives rise to the energies needed to serve Christ in situations of difficulty and suffering. I recalled this truth before the immense crowd that gathered for the Sunday Eucharistic celebration in León’s Bicentenario Park. I exhorted everyone to trust in the goodness of Almighty God, who is able to change unbearable and dark situations from within, from their heart. The Mexican people responded with their ardent faith, and yet again I recognized consoling signs of hope for the Continent in their firm commitment to the Gospel.

The final event of my Visit to Mexico, which also took place in Leon, was the celebration of Vespers in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Light with bishops of Mexico and representatives from the Episcopate of [Latin] America. I expressed my closeness to their commitment amid the various challenges and difficulties, as well as my gratitude to all those who sow the Gospel in situations that are complex and often beset by limitations. I encouraged them to be zealous pastors and sure guides, by arousing everywhere a sincere communion and a heartfelt adherence to the teaching of the Church. I then left the beloved Mexican land, where I experienced a special devotion and affection for the Vicar of Christ. Before departing, I urged the Mexican people to remain faithful to the Lord and to His Church, firmly anchored to their Christian roots.

The following day, the second leg of my apostolic journey began with the arrival in Cuba, where I went especially to support the mission of the Catholic Church, committed to the joyful proclamation of the Gospel despite the poverty of resources and the difficulties still to be overcome in order that religion might carry out its own proper spiritual and formative service within society’s public square. I wished to emphasize this upon my arrival in Santiago de Cuba, the Island’s second city, not failing however to highlight the good relations existing between the State and the Holy See, which aim at serving the living and constructive presence of the local Church. I also assured them that the Pope carries the concerns and aspirations of all Cubans in his heart, especially of those who suffer from limitations placed upon their freedom.

The first Holy Mass that I had the joy of celebrating on Cuban soil was placed within the context of the fourth centenary of the discovery of the image of the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre, Patroness of Cuba. It was a moment of great spiritual intensity, with the attentive and prayerful participation of thousands of persons -- a sign of a Church that comes from difficult situations, but with a lively witness of charity and of active presence in people’s lives. I invited Cuban Catholics, who with the entire population hope for a better future, to give renewed vigor to their faith, and to contribute -- with the courage of forgiveness and understanding -- to the building up of an open and renewed society, where there is always space for God, because when God is excluded, the world becomes a place inhospitable to man.

Before leaving Santiago de Cuba, I went to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Charity in El Cobre, so dear to the Cuban people. The pilgrimage to the image of Our Lady of Charity gave rise to great spiritual enthusiasm in the families of the Island, representing a significant event in the New Evangelization and an occasion to rediscover the faith. I especially recommended to the Holy Virgin all those who suffer and young Cubans.

The second leg of Cuba was Havana, the island’s capital. Young people, in particular, were the main participants in the exuberant welcome I received en route to the Nunciature, where I had the opportunity to meet with the country’s bishops in order to speak about the challenges the Cuban Church is called to face, in the awareness that people look to her with growing confidence. The following day, I presided over the Holy Mass in Havana’s main square, which was filled with people. I reminded everyone that Cuba and the world are in need of change, but these changes will occur only if each person opens himself to the integral truth about man  -- which is the essential prerequisite for attaining freedom -- and decides to sow reconciliation and fraternity to those around him, by founding his life upon Jesus Christ: He alone is able to dispel the darkness of error, by helping us to defeat evil and all that oppresses us. I also wished to reiterate that the Church does not seek privileges, but asks rather to be able to proclaim and to celebrate the faith, also publicly, by bringing the Gospel’s message of hope and peace to every sphere of society. While appreciating the steps taken thus far in this direction by the Cuban authorities, I stressed the need to continue on this path of increasingly greater religious freedom.

Upon leaving Cuba, tens of thousands of Cubans came to greet me along the way, despite the heavy rain. During the farewell ceremony, I recalled that, in the present hour, the various sectors of Cuban society are called to a sincere collaborative effort and to a patient dialogue for the good of the country. In this perspective, my presence on the Island as a witness of Jesus Christ was intended to encourage people to open the doors of their hearts to Him, who is the source of hope and power for good. Therefore, I said farewell to the Cubans by exhorting them to revive the faith of their fathers and to build a better future.

This trip to Mexico and Cuba - thanks be to God - had the desired pastoral success. May the Mexican and Cuban people reap abundant fruits from it, to build -- in ecclesial communion and with evangelic courage -- a future of peace and fraternity.

Dear friends, tomorrow afternoon, with the Holy Mass in Coena Domini, we enter into the Easter Triduum -- the summit of the entire liturgical year -- in order to celebrate the central Mystery of the faith: the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ. In the Gospel of St. John, this culminating moment in Jesus’ mission is called his “hour” and opens with the Last Supper. The Evangelist introduces it in this way: “Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1). Jesus’ entire life is directed to this hour, which is characterized by two aspects that illuminate one another: it is the hour of “passage” (metabasis) and it is the hour of “love (agape) unto the end”.  In fact, it is precisely divine love, the Spirit with which Jesus is filled, that makes Jesus himself “pass” through the abyss of evil and death into the new “space” of the Resurrection. It is agape, love, which brings about this transformation, such that Jesus passes beyond the limits of the human condition marked by sin, and overcomes the barrier that keeps man a prisoner, separated from God and from eternal life. In faithfully participating in the liturgical celebrations of the Easter Triduum, we are invited to live out this transformation actualized by agape. Each of us was loved by Jesus “to the end”; that is, to the total gift of Himself on the Cross, when he cried out: “It is finished!” (John 19:30). Let us allow ourselves to be touched by this love, let us allow ourselves to be transformed, so that the Resurrection may truly be realized in us. Therefore, I invite you to live the Easter Triduum intensely, and I wish all of you a Holy Easter! Thank you.

[Translation by Diane Montagna]

[The Holy Father then greeted the people in various languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

My recent Apostolic Journey to Mexico and Cuba sought to confirm the people of those countries, and all the peoples of Latin America, in their faith and in the hope which makes it possible to build a just and harmonious social order. At the liturgies in León, marked by an outpouring of devotion and spiritual joy, I encouraged the Mexican people to let their deep Christian roots inspire their efforts to overcome violence and to work for a better future. In Cuba, I wished to reaffirm the Church in her public witness to the Gospel and to support the aspirations of all Cubans to a renewed, reconciled and free society. From Santiago de Cuba, I went as a pilgrim to the shrine of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre and then to Havana, where I prayed for a rebirth of faith, openness to God’s love and respect for the truth about our human dignity and freedom revealed in Christ. In these days, as we prepare to celebrate the saving events of Christ’s Passover from death to life in the sacred Triduum, may we open our hearts to God’s reconciling love revealed on the Cross. Let us allow that love to transform our lives, and enable us to celebrate with joy the mystery of the resurrection.

I offer a cordial welcome to all the English-speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, including the student groups from England, Ireland and the United States of America. I also greet the participants in the International Gathering of University Students. May your pilgrimage to Rome bear spiritual fruit in a deeper love of Christ and his Church. Upon you and your families I invoke the Lord’s blessings of wisdom, joy and peace. A happy and blessed Easter to all of you!

[The Pope offered the following appeal:]

Today marks the international Day to raise awareness regarding the problem of anti-personnel landmines, to whose victims and their families I express my closeness. I offer my encouragement to all those who work to free humanity from these terrible and treacherous devices, which - as Blessed John Paul II said on the occasion of the enforcement of the convention on their ban - “impede men from walking together on the paths of life without fearing the threat of destruction and death” (Angelus, February 28, 1999).

[Translation by Diane Montagna]

[He concluded with these greetings:]

Lastly, I offer my cordial greeting to the young, to the sick and to newlyweds. May the contemplation of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus, dear young people, make you increasingly steadfast in your Christian witness. May you, dear sick, draw from the Cross of Christ daily support to overcome moments of trial and distress. May you, dear newlyweds, receive from the Paschal Mystery, which we contemplate in these days, encouragement to make your family a place of faithful and fruitful love.

[Translation by Diane Montagna]