On Monday, March 26, Pope Benedict XVI will land on Cuban soil. The Cuban people, including Cubans from these shores, will receive him with the love and enthusiasm worthy of the one who "comes in the name of the Lord."
He comes in his role as universal pastor of the Catholic Church — and since one of the most important responsibilities of the Pope is to confirm Catholics in the faith, the purpose of his visit to Cuba is pastoral: that is, to reaffirm the faith of Catholics on the island and, in turn, to highlight the importance of spiritual values ??to all Cubans.
So, if the Pope is going to Cuba, it is also because he recognizes the valuable work of the Cuban Church — of its bishops, priests, religious and laity — who out of their poverty want to serve their people as a leaven of evangelical hope.
It is true that Cubans — here and there — want a more political change, but Benedict XVI's visit to Cuba is not expected to have political overtones but rather pastoral ones.
Despite a climate of suspicion and mistrust that is often the result of life under totalitarian regimes, the Church in Cuba wants to help the Cuban people to overcome their lack of mutual trust and build unity on the basis of forgiveness and reconciliation.
Only by traveling a road inspired by evangelical love, rather than ideological hatred, will the people be able to find secure guidelines to follow to build a future of hope in Cuba. This defines the purpose of the pope’s visit and also defines the mission of the Church in general.
As Oscar Espinosa Chepe, an independent journalist in Cuba, commented in the Miami Herald, March 22, "The Catholic Church has given ample evidence of having been at the side of Cuba’s citizens, without discrimination of any kind. The pressure — offspring of the desperation caused by so many years of suffering and repression — to have it take positions that are biased and divorced from reality, far from helping in the current national context, undermine the work of building consensus for change and the decisive role of the Church as a bridge of communication among all Cubans, including, of course, our compatriots living abroad, who are an inalienable part of our country."
We must recognize how difficult it is to assess from outside the thin line that exists between a cowardly retreat from a prophetic stance and prudence in the face of oppression in order to take advantage of the little space there is. Those who live in a different social context need to avoid committing grave injustices by applying simplistic criteria in their facile condemnations.
We who travel to Cuba from Miami as pilgrims also want to acknowledge the work of the Church in Cuba and to demonstrate our solidarity with her as she celebrates with joy, together with the Holy Father, the 400th anniversary of the finding and presence of the Virgin of Charity in Cuba.
The words, "to Jesus through Mary, love unites us,'' also are directed, as affirmed by the Cuban bishops, to the "Cuban brethren living outside of Cuba, because the Virgin of Charity is a symbol of the homeland, of the bond that unites our families, our people and, above all, because she is the Mother of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Savior of all men.''
We go to Cuba because the Cuban Catholic Church is inviting us. And the presence among the pilgrims of a large group of Americans alongside Cuban Americans will highlight the close historic ties that bind Florida to Cuba.
Let us remember that this territory, during the years of the Spanish colonization, was part of the then Diocese of Santiago de Cuba.
The visit of John Paul II marked a “before” and “after” among the Cuban people at the level of Church, although, at the time, no major changes were perceived in church-state relations. As a young Cuban priest said recently, "For everyone, those were days of joy on the streets, of energy, of a sense of freedom, it was spectacular; it was another people."
Such were the effects of the visit of John Paul and we hope something similar will take place during this visit of Benedict XVI.