Vatican City, 21 September 2015 (VIS) – After Vespers, the Pope transferred to the “Centro de Estudio Padre Felix Varela”, the Felix Varela Cultural Centre, adjacent to the cathedral, to meet with the young people of Cuba. The Centre is dedicated to the Servant of God Felix Varela (1788-1853), considered to be the “father of Cuban culture”. The priest, whose cause for beatification is underway, taught for ten years at the San Carlos college and seminary, making a significant contribution to the progress of sciences and letters on the island. In 1821 he was elected as the representative of Cuba before the Spanish court, where he appealed for the liberation of black slaves. In 1823, following the reestablishment of absolutism in Spain under Ferdinand VII, he transferred to the United States where he proclaimed Cuba's right to independence and exercised his pastoral ministry for thirty years, founding schools, building churches and evangelising among the marginalised.
The Centre is a lay institute, in operation since 2011, coordinated by the Pontifical Council for Culture. It comprises a centre for ecclesiastical studies, also offering courses in philosophy, psychology, and a master's degree entitled Cuba-Emprende, aimed at supporting private enterprise initiatives in favour of economic change in the country. It also hosts concerts, conferences and other events, and promotes the Festival of Latin American Cinema.
The Pope expressed his joy at being in the company of the young in a centre so important to Cuban history, and after receiving greetings, he set aside his written discourse, and spoke informally with those present. Extensive extracts from the prepared text are published below:
“ … When I look at all of you, the first thing that comes into my mind and heart, too, is the word 'hope'. I cannot imagine a young person who is listless, without dreams or ideals, without a longing for something greater.
“But what kind of hope does a young Cuban have at this moment of history? Nothing more or less than that of any other young person in any other part of the world. Because hope speaks to us of something deeply rooted in every human heart, independently of our concrete circumstances and historical conditioning. Hope speaks to us of a thirst, an aspiration, a longing for a life of fulfilment, a desire to achieve great things, things which fill our heart and lift our spirit to lofty realities like truth, goodness and beauty, justice and love. But it also involves taking risks. It means being ready not to be seduced by what is fleeting, by false promises of happiness, by immediate and selfish pleasures, by a life of mediocrity and self-centredness, which only fills the heart with sadness and bitterness. No, hope is bold; it can look beyond personal convenience, the petty securities and compensations which limit our horizon, and can open us up to grand ideals which make life more beautiful and worthwhile. I would ask each one of you: What is it that shapes your life? What lies deep in your heart? Where do your hopes and aspirations lie? Are you ready to put yourself on the line for the sake of something even greater?
“Perhaps you may say: 'Yes, Father, I am strongly attracted to those ideals. I feel their call, their beauty, their light shining in my heart. But I feel too weak, I am not ready to decide to take the path of hope. The goal is lofty and my strength is all too little. It is better to be content with small things, less grand but more realistic, more within my reach'. I can understand that reaction; it is normal to feel weighed down by difficult and demanding things. But take care not to yield to the temptation of a disenchantment which paralyses the intellect and the will, or that apathy which is a radical form of pessimism about the future. These attitudes end either in a flight from reality towards vain utopias, or else in selfish isolation and a cynicism deaf to the cry for justice, truth and humanity which rises up around us and within us.
“But what are we to do? How do we find paths of hope in the situations in which we live? How do we make those hopes for fulfilment, authenticity, justice and truth, become a reality in our personal lives, in our country and our world? I think that there are three ideas which can help to keep our hope alive.
“Hope is a path made of memory and discernment. Hope is the virtue which goes places. It is not simply a path we take for the pleasure of it, but it has an end, a goal which is practical and lights up our way. Hope is also nourished by memory; it looks not only to the future but also to the past and present. To keep moving forward in life, in addition to knowing where we want to go, we also need to know who we are and where we come from. Individuals or peoples who have no memory and erase their past risk losing their identity and destroying their future. So we need to remember who we are, and in what our spiritual and moral heritage consists. This, I believe, was the experience and the insight of that great Cuban, Father Felix Varela. Discernment is also needed, because it is essential to be open to reality and to be able to interpret it without fear or prejudice. Partial and ideological interpretations are useless; they only disfigure reality by trying to fit it into our preconceived schemas, and they always cause disappointment and despair. We need discernment and memory, because discernment is not blind; it is built on solid ethical and moral criteria which help us to see what is good and just.
“Hope is a path taken with others. An African proverb says: 'If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go with others'. Isolation and aloofness never generate hope; but closeness to others and encounter do. Left to ourselves, we will go nowhere. Nor by exclusion will we be able to build a future for anyone, even ourselves. A path of hope calls for a culture of encounter, dialogue, which can overcome conflict and sterile confrontation. To create that culture, it is vital to see different ways of thinking not in terms of risk, but of richness and growth. The world needs this culture of encounter. It needs young people who seek to know and love one another, to journey together in building a country like that which José Martí dreamed of: 'With all, and for the good of all'.
“Hope is a path of solidarity. The culture of encounter should naturally lead to a culture of solidarity. I was struck by what Leonardo said at the beginning, when he spoke of solidarity as a source of strength for overcoming all obstacles. Without solidarity, no country has a future. Beyond all other considerations or interests, there has to be concern for that person who may be my friend, my companion, but also someone who may think differently than I do, someone with his own ideas yet just as human and just as Cuban as I am. Simple tolerance is not enough; we have to go well beyond that, passing from a suspicious and defensive attitude to one of acceptance, cooperation, concrete service and effective assistance. Do not be afraid of solidarity, service and offering a helping hand, so that no one is excluded from the path.
“This path of life is lit up by a higher hope: the hope born of our faith in Christ. He made himself our companion along the way. Not only does He encourage us, He also accompanies us; He is at our side and He extends a friendly hand to us. The Son of God, He wanted to become someone like us, to accompany us on our way. Faith in His presence, in His friendship and love, lights up all our hopes and dreams. With Him at our side, we learn to discern what is real, to encounter and serve others, and to walk the path of solidarity.
“Dear young people of Cuba, if God Himself entered our history and became flesh in Jesus, if He shouldered our weakness and sin, then you need not be afraid of hope, or of the future, because God is on your side. He believes in you, and He hopes in you.
“Dear friends, thank you for this meeting. May hope in Christ, your friend, always guide you along your path in life. And, please, remember to pray for me. May the Lord bless all of you”.