Photo: Pope in Cuba
There still remain many areas” in which relations must move forward between the Catholic Church and the Cuban government, Pope Benedict XVI said here Monday as he began a three-day visit to the Communist-ruled island.
In the welcoming ceremony at the Santiago airport, the pontiff said that during his visit to the island he will ask the Virgin of Charity, the country’s patron saint, to guide the destiny of Cuba “along the roads of justice, peace, freedom and reconciliation.”
“I come to Cuba as a pilgrim of charity to support my brothers in the faith and encourage them in hope,” he said.
Benedict noted that the 1998 visit to the island of his predecessor, John Paul II, gave “new vigor” to Catholicism in Cuba and inaugurated a phase of “greater collaboration and confidence” in relations between church and state.
But, he added, “there still remain many areas in which advances can and must be made, especially insofar as the indispensable contribution of religion is called upon to make in the public realm of society.”
The pontiff said that he carries in his heart “the just aspirations and legitimate desires of all Cubans, wherever they may be.”
“I am convinced that Cuba, at this especially important time in its history, is already looking toward tomorrow and to do that is making efforts to renew and widen its horizons,” Benedict said.
“I beg the Lord to richly bless this land and its sons, in particular those who feel disadvantaged, the marginalized and those who suffer in body or in spirit,” the pope concluded.
“We are satisfied with the tight relations between the Holy See and Cuba, which have developed without interruption for 76 years, always based on mutual respect and on the agreement in matters vital for humanity,” Cuban President Raul Castro said in welcoming the pope.
Thousands of people greeted Benedict along his 8-kilometer (5-mile) route through the city of Santiago de Cuba after his arrival.
As several local residents told Efe, the gathering to receive the pope was organized at various “points” along the route of the Popemobile and there were groups of people who turned out en masse from workplaces, schools and government agencies.
“He’s a head of state and you have to receive him respectfully and to fulfill our duty,” Maritza, a 50-year-old teacher who is not Catholic, told Efe.
At the headquarters of the Catholic archdiocese, Benedict was greeted by more than 100 children and teenagers who sang songs to fete him.
After resting briefly there, the pope will celebrate his first Mass in Cuba in Santiago’s Plaza Antonio Maceo, which has the capacity to accommodate some 150,000 people.