Havana, Cuba.- Pope Benedict XVI concluded on Wednesday afternoon a three-day pastoral journey and official visit to Cuba, where he celebrated two Masses, visited the National Shrine of the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre —Cuba’s Patron Saint—, and met with President Raul Castro and with the leader of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro.
“I hold deep in my heart all the Cuban people, each and every one. You have surrounded me with prayer and affection, offered me cordial hospitality and shared with me your profound and rightful aspirations,” said the pontiff shortly before returning to Rome during an official farewell ceremony at Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport, where he was seen off by President Raul Castro.
“I thank God for allowing me to visit this beautiful Isle which left so deep a mark on the heart of my beloved predecessor, Blessed John Paul II, when he came to these lands as a herald of truth and hope,” Benedict XVI added.
The Pope thanked the Cuban national authorities for their “generous cooperation” in the preparation of the journey and also thanked the members of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba, “who spared no effort or sacrifice in this regard, and to all those who have helped in various ways, especially by their prayers.”
During his speech, the pontiff criticized the U.S. economic blockade of the Caribbean nation describing it as “restrictive economic measures, imposed from outside the country,” that “unfairly burden its people.”
“I now conclude my pilgrimage, but I will continue praying fervently that you will go forward and that Cuba will be the home of all and for all Cubans, where justice and freedom coexist in a climate of serene fraternity. (…) Possible discrepancies and difficulties will be resolved by tirelessly seeking what unites everyone, with patient and sincere dialogue, and a willingness to listen and accept goals which will bring new hope. (…) As I bid you a heartfelt adios, I ask our Lady of Charity of El Cobre to protect all Cubans under her mantle, to sustain them in the midst of their trials and to obtain from Almighty God the grace that they most desire. Hasta siempre, Cuba, a land made beautiful by the maternal presence of Mary. May God bless your future,” the Pope concluded.
For his part, in his speech, Raul Castro noted that the Pope’s visit had taken place in an atmosphere of mutual understanding and that it allowed the pontiff to know the Cuban people better.
“Cuba’s main objective has always been the full dignity of human beings. We are aware that this is not built only on material basis, but also on spiritual values such as generosity, solidarity, a sense of justice, altruism, mutual respect, honesty and truthfulness. Making the common good was a principle we learned from Father Felix Varela. Later, Jose Marti wrote that ‘To be educated is the only way to be free’ and urged us to ‘conquer all justice’,” the Cuban leader noted. Raul Castro highlighted the efforts made by the Cuban government toward the full normalization of relations with Cubans living abroad “who feel love for their Homeland and their families” and said these efforts will continue.
The head of state also referred to the five Cuban antiterrorists who remain unjustly imprisoned in the United States. “This is a fair people that take pride in the virtues of their five children who were condemned for fighting the scourge of terrorism and defending truth, and that accompany them every minute of their undeserved imprisonment and share the feelings of their suffering families,” he said.
“Being among those who have done most for life, freedom and human dignity, is something that satisfies our country. We share the certainty that only increasing the people’s awareness, and through mutual respect, dialogue and cooperation, will the world be able to find solutions to the most serious problems,” Raul Castro pointed out.
“We have found many deep similarities, though, of course, we do not share the same opinion about all issues,” said the Cuban head of state before thanking the pontiff for his visit and for his affectionate feelings toward the Cuban people “that we will always remember.”
“On behalf of Cuba and myself, I express our deep gratitude and appreciation,” Raul Castro concluded.(Tomado de Radio Rebelde)