Mexico cathedral at Leon
The cathedral in Leon, Mexico is decked out in anticipation of Pope Benedict XVI’s arrival in the state of Guanajuato on March 23. Photo by Jeffrey Bruno
Mexican president and Pope
Pope Benedict XVI is greeted by Mexican President Felipe Calderon during Mass in Silao on March 25. As the pontiff prepared to depart for Cuba the next day, the Mexican president thanked him “for a visit we will never forget.” Newscom photo

Enthusiastic crowds greeted Pope Benedict XVI on his first papal journey to Spanish-speaking Latin America. His visits to Mexico from March 23 to March 26 and Cuba from March 26 to March 28 were packed with Masses, addresses and gatherings with faithful. 

While Pope Benedict connected spiritually with the hundreds of thousands who attended his Masses and celebrations in each country, he did not shy away from addressing the societal ills plaguing Cuba and Mexico. 

On the topic of drug violence in Mexico, the pope had this to say on the papal plane March 23: 

“We must do everything we can against this evil, which is so destructive of humanity and of our young people. The first thing is to announce God. God the judge. God Who loves us, but Who asks us to abide in goodness and truth, and to reject evil,” he said. “Therefore, one great responsibility the Church has is to educate people to moral responsibility and to unmask evil, to unmask the idolatry of money which enslaves man. ... We must remember that men and women need the infinite. If there is no God, they replace him by creating their own heavens, a seeming infinity which is really only a lie. This is why it is so important for God to be present and accessible.” 

Religious freedom was an emphasis of the pontiff’s in Cuba, who, during a meeting with President Raul Castro, asked the Cuban leader to re-establish Good Friday as a national holiday. A few days after the pope’s departure, the Cuban government acquiesced, at least for this year’s Passion celebration. The pontiff also called for greater religious freedoms during his March 28 Mass in Havana’s Revolution Square, which President Castro attended. 

“In Cuba, steps have been taken to enable the Church to carry out her essential mission of expressing the faith openly and publicly. Nevertheless, this must continue forward,” Pope Benedict said. “I wish to encourage the country’s government authorities to strengthen what has already been achieved and advance along this path of genuine service to the true good of Cuban society as a whole.” 

Here are photographic highlights of the pontiff’s journey.

Cuban Donation

On March 31, the Vatican announced that Pope Benedict XVI, through the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, has donated funds to finance agricultural projects in two Cuban dioceses as a result of his March 26-28 visit to the island nation.  

Cardinal Robert Sarah, who is president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, traveled with the pontiff and met with the bishops of the dioceses to discuss possible initiatives in support of the population. 

At the same time, the Vatican announced that the pontiff also made a donation of $100,000 through Cor Unum to the Church in Syria for projects that support the people of Syria during the civil strife.