Vatican City, 23 September 2015 (VIS) – The Pope concluded his visit to Cuba by meeting with families in the Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion cathedral in Santiago, where he gave thanks to all Cubans for the warm welcome he has received in these days, a “warmth spread by people who know how to welcome and to accept someone, to make him feel at home”.
The reading that preceded the Holy Father's discourse was the Gospel account of the wedding at Cana. “Jesus begins His public life at a wedding. He enters into that history of sowing and reaping, of dreams and quests, of efforts and commitments, of hard work which tills the land so that it can yield fruit. Jesus began His life within a family, within a home. And He continues to enter into, and become a part of, our homes. It is interesting to see how Jesus also appears at meals, at dinners. Eating with different people, visiting different homes, was a special way for Him to make known God’s plan. He goes to the home of His friends, Martha and Mary, but He is not choosy; it makes no difference to Him if they are publicans or sinners, like Zacchaeus. He did not just act this way himself; when He sent His disciples out to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God He told them: Stay in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide. Weddings, visits to people’s homes, dinners: those moments in people’s lives become 'special' because Jesus chose to be part of them”.
Francis recalled that in his former diocese many families told him that “the only time they came together was at dinner, in the evening after work, when the children had finished their homework. These were special times in the life of the family. They talked about what happened that day and what each of them had done. ... Jesus chooses all those times to show us the love of God. He chooses those moments to enter into our hearts and to help us to discover the Spirit of life at work in our daily affairs. It is in the home that we learn fraternity, solidarity, and not to be overbearing. It is in the home that we learn to receive, to appreciate life as a blessing and to realise that we need one another to move forward. … That is why the Christian community calls families 'domestic churches'”.
“Without family, without the warmth of home, life grows empty, there is a weakening of the networks which sustain us in adversity, nurture us in daily living and motivate us to build a better future. The family saves us from two present-day phenomena: fragmentation ... and uniformity. In both cases, people turn into isolated individuals, easy to manipulate and to rule. Societies which are divided, broken, separated or rigidly uniform are a result of the breakup of family bonds, the loss of those relationships which make us who we are, which teach us to be persons”.
“The family is a school of humanity which teaches us to open our hearts to others’ needs, to be attentive to their lives”, Francis continued. “Amid all the difficulties troubling our families today, please, never forget one thing: families are not a problem, they are first and foremost an opportunity. An opportunity which we have to care for, protect and support. We talk a lot about the future, about the kind of world we want to leave to our children, the kind of society we want for them. I believe that one possible answer lies in looking at yourselves: let us leave behind a world with families. No doubt about it: the perfect family does not exist; there are no perfect husbands and wives, perfect parents, perfect children, but this does not prevent families from being the answer for the future. God inspires us to love, and love always engages with the persons it loves. So let us care for our families, true schools for the future. Let us care for our families, true spaces of freedom. Let us care for families, true centres of humanity”.
The Holy Father invited all expectant mothers, “pregnant with hope as a new baby is a hope”, to caress their growing child in the womb as he gave them his blessing.
“I do not want to end without mentioning the Eucharist”, he continued. “All of you know very well that Jesus chose a meal to the setting for His memorial. He chose a specific moment of family life as the 'place' of his presence among us. A moment which we have all experienced, a moment we all understand: a meal. The Eucharist is the meal of Jesus’ family, which the world over gathers to hear His word and to be fed by His body. Jesus is the Bread of Life for our families. He wants to be ever present, nourishing us by His love, sustaining us in faith, helping us to walk in hope, so that in every situation we can experience the true Bread of Heaven”.
The Pope concluded by asking those present to pray for the World Meeting of Families and for the Synod of Bishops on the family, to start at the beginning of October. Then, accompanied by the archbishop of Santiago, Dionisio Guillermo Garcia Ibanez, he greeted faithful in the cathedral and finally appeared at the terrace overlooking Parque Cespedes, from where he bade farewell to Cuba with the following words:
“I greet you. Thank you for your welcome and your warmth. The Cubans are truly kind and good, and make you feel at home. Many thanks! And I would like to offer a word of hope. A word of hope that may perhaps make us turn our heads to look backwards and ahead. Looking back is memory. The memory of those who have given us life, and especially grandparents. A warm greeting to grandparents. Let us not forget them. Grandparents are our living memory. And looking ahead: children and the young, who are the strength of the people. A people that cares for grandparents and cares for children and the young is guaranteed victory! God bless you, and let Him give you His blessing, but on one condition. I ask you to pray for me. This is the condition. May God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, bless you. Farewell and thank you”.