AS Cubans finally face the prospects of calmer relationships and greater ease of communication and commerce with the United States, Pope Francis told the Cuban people that love and service, not anyone’s ideology, were the keys to their happiness.
“We do not serve ideas, we serve people,” the pope told hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Havana’s Revolution Square for Mass on September 20.
For decades the square has been the site of major communist government rallies and is dominated by a huge image of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, an Argentine Marxist who became a leader in the Cuban Revolution of the 1950s.
The image of Che was prominent at the pope’s Mass, but so was a banner proclaiming Pope Francis a “missionary of mercy” and an even bigger image of the merciful Jesus.
After decades of communism, Mass attendance in Cuba is low; even the Holy See reports that only 60 per cent of the population is baptised Catholic.
But as a sign of the pope’s hopes for the growth of the church in Cuba, he granted an exception to his normal practice of personally giving Communion only to the altar servers and other ministers at his public Masses. Five Cuban children received their first Communion from the pope at the Mass.
In his homily, Pope Francis focused on an aspect of Jesus’ ministry that he tries to imitate: First of all, identify the good in a person, then help or challenge him or her to build on that good instinct or behavior.
Pope Francis said he knows the Cuban people and the Catholic Church in Cuba have suffered.
Yet, he said, they still know how to celebrate, to praise God and to serve others.
The greatness of a people and a nation, he said, was how it serves the vulnerable.
Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino of Havana addressed the pope at the end of the Mass “in the name of the Cuban people – the Catholics and many other believers, as well as nonbelievers. Thank you for coming to visit our land, our beloved Cuba; thank you for sowing with your pontificate, good and necessary questions in our consciences, which had been sleeping and accustomed to mediocrity.”
He thanked the pope “for promoting the process of renewing relations between Cuba and the United States, which will bring such benefit to our people.”
Normal, friendly and cooperative relations, the cardinal said, should reach not just the highest political levels in both countries, but also promote reconciliation between people in Cuba and Cubans who emigrated.
“Only love and forgiveness among us will be a valid means for a true and peaceful renewal of our Cuban nation,” he said.