Pope Francis’ fourth and last day of his mission to the Cuban people (Tuesday, September 22) was spent that morning in and near Santiago de Cuba, at the eastern end of the island.
The Basilica of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre
At the Basilica of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, a small village just outside Santiago, Pope Francis celebrated mass. Above are photographs of the Pope at the mass and of the Basilica. Here is the text of his homily.
“The Gospel we have just heard tells us about something the Lord does every time he visits us: he calls us out of our house. These are images that we are asked to contemplate over and over again. God’s presence in our lives never leaves us tranquil: it always pushes us 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.”
“In the Gospel we see Mary, the first disciple. A young woman of perhaps between fifteen and seventeen years of age who, in a small village of Palestine, was visited by the Lord, who told her that she was to be the mother of the Savior. Mary was far from ‘thinking it was all about her,’ or thinking that everyone had to come and wait upon her; she left her house and went out to serve. First she goes to help her cousin Elizabeth. The joy which blossoms when we know that God is with us, with our people, gets our heart beating, gets our legs moving and ‘draws us out of ourselves.’ It leads us to take the joy we have received and to share it in service, in those ‘pregnant’ situations which our neighbors or families may be experiencing. The Gospel tells us that Mary went in haste, slowly but surely, with a steady pace, neither too fast nor so slow as never to get there. Neither anxious nor distracted, Mary goes with haste to accompany her cousin who conceived in her old age. Henceforth this was always to be her way. She has always been the woman who visits men and women, children, the elderly and the young. She has visited and accompanied many of our peoples in the drama of their birth; she has watched over the struggles of those who fought to defend the rights of their children. And now, she continues to bring us the Word of Life, her Son, our Lord.”
“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. As the bishops of this country have written: ‘In a special and unique way she has molded the Cuban soul, inspiring the highest ideals of love of God, the family and the nation in the heart of the Cuban people.’”
“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. 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, utterly Cuban and loved as such by our cherished mothers, blessed as such by our wives.’”
“In this shrine, which keeps alive the memory of God’s holy and faithful pilgrim people in Cuba, Mary is venerated as the Mother of Charity. 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, valor and faith for their grandchildren, in their families. They kept open a tiny space, small as a mustard seed, through which the Holy Spirit continued to accompany the heartbeat of this people.”
“Whenever we look to Mary, we come to believe once again in the revolutionary nature of love and tenderness” (Evangelii Gaudium, 288).
“Generation after generation, day after day, we are asked to renew our faith. 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 that always becomes closeness and compassion, and leads us to get involved in, and to serve, the lives of others. Our faith makes us leave our homes and go forth to encounter others, to share their joys, their hopes and their frustrations. 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 neighbors who rejoice. Like Mary, we want to be a Church that serves, that leaves home and goes forth, that goes forth from its chapels, its 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 that goes forth to build bridges, to break down walls, to sow seeds of reconciliation. Like Mary, we want to be a Church that 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.”
“This is our most valuable treasure (cobre), this is our greatest wealth and the best legacy we can give: to learn like Mary to leave home and set out on the path of visitation. And to learn to pray with Mary, for her prayer is one of remembrance and gratitude; it is the canticle of the People of God on their pilgrimage through history. It is the living reminder that God passes through our midst; the perennial memory that God has looked upon the lowliness of his people, he has come the aid of his servant, even as promised to our forebears and their children for ever.”
Our Lady of the Assumption Cathedral of Santiago
Following the Mass, the pope traveled to Santiago in the popemobile, waving to throngs lining the streets. In the Our Lady of the Assumption Cathedral of Santiago, he met with families. Below our photographs of the Pope at this Cathedral.
The Pope was welcomed to Our Lady of the Assumption Cathedral by The Archbishop of Santiago and the president of Cuba’s Council of Bishops, Dionisio Garcia Ibáñez, who described the challenges facing Cubans divided by emigration, economic pressures and a breakdown of family ties. He said, “Young people with families today want to have children but so often their plans turn into a problem, because so many young people have emigrated, or are separated for reasons of employment, or economic struggles, housing shortages.” He added that Cuba’s low fertility rate and population decline “leaves our country to grow old” and “destabilizes families. Our families want to be strengthened by your message of encouragement and hope.”
The Pope responded, “Thank you, Cubans, for making me feel part of a family, for making me feel at home, in these days. . . . To conclude my visit with this family gathering is a reason to thank God for the ‘warmth’ spread by people who know how to welcome and accept someone, to make him feel at home. Thank you! I am grateful to Archbishop Dionisio García of Santiago for his greetings in the name of all present, and to the married couple who were not afraid to share with all of us their hopes and struggles in trying to make their home a ‘domestic church.’ John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus worked his first miracle at the wedding feast of Cana, at a family party. There he was, with Mary, his Mother, and some of his disciples, taking part in a family celebration.”
“Weddings are special times in many people’s lives. For the ‘older folks’– parents and grandparents–it is an opportunity to reap the fruits of what they have sown. Our hearts rejoice when we see children grow up and make a home of their own. For a moment, we see that everything we worked for was worth the effort. To raise children, to support and encourage them, to help them want to make a life for themselves and form a family: this is a great challenge for all parents.”
“Weddings, too, show us the joy of young spouses. The future is open before them, and everything ‘smacks’ of new possibilities, of hope. Weddings always bring together the past that we inherit and the future in which we put our hope. They are an opportunity to be grateful for everything that has brought us to this day, with the same love which we have received. 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 shows up 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 didn’t 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 (Lk 10:7). Weddings, visits to people’s homes, dinners: those moments in people’s lives become ‘special’ because Jesus chose to be part of them.”
“I remember in my former diocese how many families told me that almost 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; they tidied the house, put things away and organized their chores for the next few days. These were also times when someone might come home tired, or when arguments or bickering might break out.”
“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 realize that we need one another to move forward. It is in the home that we experience forgiveness, that we are continually asked to forgive and to grow. In the home there is no room for ‘putting on masks:’ we are who we are, and in one way or another we are called to do our best for others. That is why the Christian community calls families ‘domestic churches.’ It is in the warmth of the home that faith fills every corner, lights up every space, builds community. At those moments, people learn to discover God’s love present and at work.”
“In many cultures today, these spaces are shrinking, these experiences of family are disappearing, and everything is slowly breaking up, growing apart. We have fewer moments in common, to stay together, to stay at home as a family. As a result, we don’t know how to be patient, we don’t know how to ask permission or forgiveness, or even to say ‘thank you,’ because our homes are growing empty. Empty of relationships, empty of contacts, empty of encounters.”
“Not long ago, someone who works with me told me that his wife and children had gone off on vacation, while he remained home alone. The first day, the house is completely quiet, ‘at peace,’ and nothing was out of place. On the third day, when I asked him how things were going, he told me: I wish they would all come back soon. He felt he couldn’t live without his wife and children.”
“Without family, without the warmth of home, life grows empty, there is a weakening of the networks that 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 (division) and uniformity. In both cases, people turn into isolated individuals, easy to manipulate and to rule. Societies that 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 that teaches us to open our hearts to others’ needs, to be attentive to their lives. 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 that 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 centers of humanity. I do not want to end without mentioning the Eucharist. All of you know very well that Jesus chose a meal to be the setting for his memorial. He chose a specific moment of family life as the “place” of his presence among us. A moment that 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.”
“In a few days I will join families from across the globe in the World Meeting of Families and, in less than a month, in the Synod of Bishops devoted to the family. I ask you to pray in a particular way for these two events, so that together we can find ways to help one another and to care for the family, so that we can continue to discover Emmanuel, the God who dwells in the midst of his people, and makes his home in our families.”
Before leaving Santiago, the Pope blessed the city from a balcony in front of the Cathedral, directly across historic Cespedes Park. He said, “A people that takes care of its grandparents, its children and its poor has its triumph secured.”
Santiago, in eastern Cuba, also carries deep ideological symbolism as the birthplace of Fidel Castro’s revolution in the 1950s. From the very same balcony just used by Francis, for example, Fidel in 1959 proclaimed the victory of the Revolución.
At approximately 12:30 p.m. (EST) the Pope finished his mission to the Cuban people when his airplane left Cuba bound for Washington, D.C. and the start of his mission to the American people. On the plane, the Pope, in response to a journalist’s question, said that the lifting of the U.S. embargo (blockade) was part of the ongoing bilateral negotiations and that he would not make specific comments on the subject. However, he said, “Both presidents have spoken; I hope that an agreement which satisfies both parties is reached.”
After I have written about Francis’ mission to the American people, I will study and pray about Francis’ remarks to the two peoples in order to make my own analysis of these wonderful missions by a humble, merciful, charming man of God.
 Montgomery & Miroff, Pope wraps up Cuba visit with call for ‘revolution of tenderness,’ Wash. Post (Sept. 22, 2015); Pope Francis in Cuba: Minute by minute, Granma (Sept. 23, 2105); Pope Francis reflects on blockade of Cuba, Granma (Sept. 23, 2015); Pentin, Full Text of Pope’s Homily at Shrine of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, Cuba, Nat’l Cath. Reg. (Sept. 22, 2015); Jervis, The pope pays a visit to El Cobre and the Virgin Mary, USA Today (Sept. 22, 2015); Pope Francis in Cuba—Holy Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, Vatican Radio (Sept. 22, 2015)(video); Text of the Pope’s speech to families in Santiago, Cuba, Rome Reports (Sept. 22, 2015); Pope in Cuba: ‘A Child Is a Source of Hope. . . I Bless the Children in the Womb,’ Nat’l Cath. Reg. (Sept. 22, 2015).