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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Pope at the Shrine of El Cobre: ours is a revolution of tenderness, joy and compassion

Vatican City, 23 September 2015 (VIS) – “God’s presence in our lives never leaves us tranquil: it always pushes to do something. When God comes, He always calls us out of our house. We are visited so that we can visit others; we are encountered so as to encounter others; we receive love in order to give love”, said Pope Francis yesterday in his final homily in Cuba, in the Minor Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre.

The Pope commented on the Gospel passage that narrates the episode of Mary's visit to her cousin Elizabeth. “Mary went in haste, slowly but surely, with a steady pace, neither too fast nor so slow as never to get there. … Henceforth this was always to be her way. These lands have also been visited by her maternal presence. The Cuban homeland was born and grew, warmed by devotion to Our Lady of Charity”.

“This was what your fellow citizens also stated a hundred years ago, when they asked Pope Benedict XV to declare Our Lady of Charity the Patroness of Cuba”, Francis recalled. “They wrote that 'neither disgrace nor poverty were ever able to crush the faith and the love which our Catholic people profess for the Virgin of Charity, for whom, in all their trials, when death was imminent or desperation was at the door, there arose, like a light scattering the darkness of every peril, like a comforting dew, the vision of that Blessed Virgin”.

This Shrine has since kept alive the memory of God’s holy and faithful pilgrim people in Cuba. “From here she protects our roots, our identity, so that we may never stray to paths of despair. The soul of the Cuban people, as we have just heard, was forged amid suffering and privation which could not suppress the faith, that faith which was kept alive thanks to all those grandmothers who fostered, in the daily life of their homes, the living presence of God, the presence of the Father Who liberates, strengthens, heals, grants courage and serves as a sure refuge and the sign of a new resurrection. Grandmothers, mothers, and so many others who with tenderness and love were signs of visitation, valour and faith for their grandchildren, in their families”.

“Whenever we look to Mary, we come to believe once again in the revolutionary nature of love and tenderness”, he emphasised. “We are asked to live the revolution of tenderness as Mary, our Mother of Charity, did. We are invited to 'leave home' and to open our eyes and hearts to others. Our revolution comes about through tenderness, through the joy which always becomes closeness and compassion, and leads us to get involved in, and to serve, the life of others. … Our faith, 'calls us out of our house', to visit the sick, the prisoner and to those who mourn. It makes us able to laugh with those who laugh, and rejoice with our neighbours who rejoice”.

“Like Mary, we want to be a Church who serves, who leaves home and goes forth, who goes forth from her chapels, her sacristies, in order to accompany life, to sustain hope, to be a sign of unity. Like Mary, Mother of Charity, we want to be a Church who goes forth to build bridges, to break down walls, to sow seeds of reconciliation. Like Mary, we want to be a Church who can accompany all those 'pregnant' situations of our people, committed to life, to culture, to society, not washing our hands but rather walking with our brothers and sisters. All together, serving, helping. All sons and daughters of God, sons and daughters of Mary, sons and daughters of this noble Cuban soil”.

Francis leaves Cuba, reiterating that the family is not a 'problem' but rather an opportunity

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”.

The Pope speaks about his trip in Cuba

Vatican City, 23 September 2015 (VIS) – During the flight from Cuba to the United States, Pope Francis spoke with journalists and answered their questions on a number of issues including the trade embargo against Cuba, his critique of liberal capitalism and the future role of the Church on the island.

The first question related to the Pope's opinion on the trade embargo against Cuba, and whether he intends to refer to this theme in his address to the United States Congress.

“The question of the trade embargo is part of the negotiations”, replied Francis. “This is public: both presidents have referred to it. So, it is a public matter, that leads in the direction of the good relations that are being constructed. My hope is that an agreement satisfying both parties may be reached. … With regard to the position of the Holy See on the embargoes, previous Popes have spoken not only about this case, but also on other cases of embargoes. On this matter I refer to the social doctrine of the Church, which is precise and just. With regard to the United States Congress … I am thinking about what I would like to say in this respect; but not specifically on this theme, but rather in general on the issue of bilateral and multilateral agreements, as a sign of progress in co-existence. But this theme in a concrete sense is not mentioned, I am almost sure of this”.

“We have heard that more than fifty dissidents were arrested outside the nunciature because they were trying to obtain a meeting with you. Would you like to meet the dissidents? And if such a meeting took place, what would you say to them?”

“Firstly, I am not aware that this happened. … Directly, I do not know. Your two questions concern the future. I would like this to happen. I like meeting all people. First of all because I believe that all people are sons and daughters of God, and secondly, an encounter with any person is enriching. Yes, I would like to meet them. If you would like me to continue to speak about the dissidents, I have something very concrete to say. First of all, it was very clear that I would not have given any audience, as I was asked for an audience not only with the dissidents, but also with people from other sectors, including various heads of State. … Audiences were planned neither with dissidents, nor with others. Secondly, from the nunciature there were telephone calls with various people who form part of this group of dissidents. The task of the nuncio was to communicate to them that with pleasure, upon my arrival at the cathedral for the meeting with consecrated persons, I would have greeted those who were there. A greeting, this is true. But given that nobody presented themselves for the greeting, I do not know if they were there or not. I greeted all those who were there. Above all I greeted the sick, those who were in wheelchairs. But nobody presented him- or herself as a dissident. From the nunciature calls were made to invite them for a passing greeting”.

The third question was on the suffering of the Cuban Catholic Church under Fidel Castro, and whether during his meeting with the Commander, the Pope thought he had repented to any degree.

“Repentance is something very intimate, it is a matter of conscience”, said the Holy Father. “In the encounter with Fidel I spoke with him about the Jesuits he knew, as one of the gifts I took was a book by Fr. Llorente, a close friend of his and a Jesuit, and another by Fr. Pronzato which he will certainly appreciate. We spoke about these things. We spoke at length about 'Laudato si'', as he is very interested in environmental issues. It was an informal and spontaneous meeting. We spoke about the encyclical as he is very concerned about this matter, but we did not talk about the past”.

“Given that the Pope has denounced the current economic system, some sectors of American society have asked whether the Pope is communist and others, indeed, whether he is Catholic. What does Francis think about this?”

“I am sure that I have not said anything that is not present in the social Doctrine of the Church”, responded the Holy Father. “On another flight a journalist asked me if, when I went to speak to the Popular Movements, if the Church was following me, and I answered that I follow the Church, as in this way I don't think I can make a mistake. I don't believe I have said anything that is not in the social Doctrine of the Church. These things can be explained. Perhaps an explanation gave the impression that I tended a little to the left, but it would be an error of explanation. No. My doctrine, on all of this, on 'Laudato si'', on economic imperialism and all of this, it is that of the social doctrine of the Church. And if it is necessary for me to recite the Creed, I am willing to do so!”

Another journalist recalled that during his last apostolic trip to Latin America the Pope harshly criticised the liberal capitalist system while in Cuba his criticism of the Communist system was less severe. “What is the reason for this difference?”

“In the addresses I gave in Cuba, I always mentioned the social Doctrine of the Church”, explained Francis. “The things that need to be corrected I have mentioned clearly. … I have not said anything more than what I have written in the encyclical and in 'Evangelii Gaudium' on unfettered or liberal capitalism. … But here in Cuba … it has been a very pastoral trip, with the Catholic community, with Christians, and also with those people of good will and so my discourses have been homilies. … Even with the young – whether or not they were young believers and, among the believers, of different religions – it was a discourse of hope to encourage dialogue between them, to seek the things they have in common and not those that divide them, to build bridges. … It was a more pastoral language. Instead, in the encyclical it was necessary to tackle more technical issues”.

The penultimate question was whether or not the Catholic Church will assume any role in encouraging openness to political freedom in Cuba, considering the role the Holy See has already played in re-establishing relations between Cuba and the United States.

“The Church in Cuba has drawn up a list of prisoners to be pardoned”, revealed the Pope. “Amnesty has been granted to 3,500 of them, according to the president of the Episcopal Conference. And there are still cases under consideration. And the Church here in Cuba is working for further amnesty. For example, some people tell me it would be good to do away with life imprisonment. Speaking plainly, life imprisonment is almost a form of hidden death sentence. I have said this publicly in an address to European jurists. You stay there, dying every day without hope of freedom. It is a hypothesis. Another hypothesis is that there be general amnesties every year or two. But the Church is working, has worked on this. I am not saying that these three thousand were freed because of the Church lists, no. The Church has made a list, has officially requested amnesty, and will continue to do so”.

Finally, a reporter asked if the fact that three Popes have visited Cuba in twenty years may be interpreted as indicating that the island is in some way afflicted, inasmuch as a doctor visits a sick patient rather than a person in good health.

“No, no”, he replied. “The first was John Paul II, the first historic visit”, he affirmed. “But it was normal – he visited many countries, including those that were hostile towards the Church. The second was Pope Benedict XVI. … Initially my idea was to enter the United States via Mexico, but to visit Mexico without visiting Our Lady of Guadalupe would not have been good. Then, with the announcement of 17 December last year, when the talks that had been taking place for almost a year were made public, I said that I would like to visit the United States via Cuba. And I chose to do so for this reason. But Cuba does not have any particular affliction that other countries do not have”.

Francis arrives in the United States of America

Vatican City, 23 September 2015 (VIS) – With his arrival, ten minutes earlier than expected (3.49 p.m. local time, 9.50 p.m. in Rome) at the Andrews air base in Washington D.C. yesterday, the Pope began the second part of his apostolic trip. During his six days in the United States, he will meet with President Barack Obama and the American episcopate, canonise Blessed Junipero Serra, speak before the United States Congress (the first Pontiff to do so), meet the homeless in New York, address the United Nations, participate in an interreligious meeting at Ground Zero and a meeting for religious freedom, visit prison detainees and celebrate mass at the World Meeting of Families.

Upon arrival in the United States, Francis was received by President Barack Obama accompanied by the First Lady Michelle Obama, and their two daughters. The mayor of the District of Colombia and the governors of Maryland and Virginia were also present, along with the apostolic nuncio in the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, and the archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl.

The Pope and the President, with the First Lady, spoke privately for a few minutes in the airport. Following their conversation the Pope transferred by car to the apostolic nunciature in Washington D.C., where he spent the night.

At 9.15 a.m. local time (3.15 p.m. in Rome) the welcome ceremony will be held in the White House, and in the grounds the Holy Father will pronounce his first discourse in the United States. He will then meet in private with President Obama, after which he will meet the bishops in the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle. He will later celebrate Mass for the canonisation of Blessed Junipero Serra in the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Francis will conclude his day with a visit to the John Paul II Seminary.

Other Pontifical Acts

Vatican City, 23 September 2015 (VIS) – The Holy Father has accepted the resignation from the pastoral care of the diocese of Ponta de Pedras, Brazil, presented by Bishop Alessio Saccardo, S.J., upon reaching the age limit. He is succeeded by Bishop Teodoro Mendes Tavares, C.S.Sp., coadjutor of the same diocese.

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