|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
|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.
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.
Prayer to Our Lady of Guadalupe
|A child holds the papal flag as she awaits a glimpse of Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to Leon, Mexico. Photo by Jeffrey Bruno
“At this time, when so many families are separated or forced to emigrate, when so many are suffering due to poverty, corruption, domestic violence, drug trafficking, the crisis of values and increased crime, we come to Mary in search of consolation, strength and hope. She is the Mother of the true God, who invites us to stay with faith and charity beneath her mantle, so as to overcome in this way all evil and to establish a more just and fraternal society.
“With these sentiments, I place once again this country, all Latin America and the Caribbean before the gentle gaze of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I entrust all their sons and daughters to the Star of both the original and the new evangelization; she has inspired with her maternal love their Christian history, has given particular expression to their national achievements, to their communal and social initiatives, to family life, to personal devotion and to the continental mission which is now taking place across these noble lands. In times of trial and sorrow she was invoked by many martyrs who, in crying out ‘Long live Christ the King and Mary of Guadalupe’ bore unyielding witness of fidelity to the Gospel and devotion to the Church. I now ask that her presence in this nation may continue to serve as a summons to defense and respect for human life. May it promote fraternity, setting aside futile acts of revenge and banishing all divisive hatred.”
— Pope Benedict XVI during the Angelus March 25 in Mexico.
|Pope Benedict XVI poses with children during a visit to the sanctuary of the “Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre” in Santiago de Cuba March 27, 2012. Photo via Newscom
Among the hundreds of thousands of faithful attending Masses in Cuba were pilgrims from Florida. The Archdiocese of Miami organized a pilgrimage for its faithful, with 300 traveling with the archdiocese to Santiago de Cuba and then to Havana.
Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski, who led the pilgrimage, celebrated Mass at Havana’s cathedral on March 27. During his homily, he prayed for Cubans to “build for themselves and their posterity a future of hope.”
“However, as Cuba transitions, the pope and the Church want a transition that is worthy of the Cubans’ aspirations, a transition worthy of man,” the archbishop concluded. “To go from the ideological materialism of Marxism to a practical materialism such as that of many Western societies would not be worthy of man. The Church certainly wants a ‘soft landing’ but a landing that is open to a future of hope. As the Holy Father wrote in Spe Salvi, a world without God is a world without hope, a world without a future. To people intoxicated with the love of power, the Church witnesses to hope by sharing with the world — and with the Cuban people — the power of love.”
Prayer Before Our Lady of Charity
“Before Mary of Charity, I remember in a particular way Cubans who are the descendants of those who arrived here from Africa, like the nearby people of Haiti, where the consequences of the earthquake of two years ago are still being suffered. And I cannot forget the many country people and their families who wish to live the Gospel deeply in their homes and who offer their homes as mission centers for the celebration of Mass.
“Following the example of the Most Holy Virgin, I encourage all the sons and daughters of this dear country to continue to build their lives on the firm rock which is Jesus Christ, to work for justice, to be servants of charity and to persevere in the midst of trials. May nothing or no one take from you your inner joy which is so characteristic of the Cuban soul.”
— Pope Benedict XVI during his March 27 visit to the shrine of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre in Cuba.