Pope preaches unity, 'a renewed and open society' for Cubans
In a homily to Cubans, Pope Benedict XVI urged Cubans to work together
to create a society without fear, and to seek the good in each other. He
spoke of forgiveness, compassion and "a renewed and open society.''
BY MIMI WHITEFIELD AND DANIEL CHANG
SANTIAGO DE CUBA -- Unity, compassion, forgiveness and reconciliation
were themes of the homily delivered Monday night by Pope Benedict XVI to
tens of thousands of followers gathered for an outdoor Mass in the
shadow of the Sierra Maestra mountains.
"Cuba has a need for unity,'' said the pope, who also noted that the
nation should "not accept foreign interference.''
"It is necessary to overcome the barriers that separate the Cuban
people,'' he said, and called for "a renewed and open society.''
The service began with a message from the Archbishop of Santiago de
Cuba, Monsignor Dionisio Guillermo García Ibáñez, who exhorted the Cuban
people to work together to find the best in each other, and never fear
the search for a solution to their problems.
In a speech that echoed the words of Pope John Paul II in his 1998 visit
to the island — "Do not be afraid" — Ibáñez addressed the audience
gathered in Plaza Antonio Maceo. Many wore white baseball caps and white
t-shirts with the words "Bienvenido" or "Welcome" and an image of Our
Lady of Charity and Benedict XVI.
"Do not be afraid to find a solution,'' he said. "Let this be a parable
that leads us to search for the good in all people, with the
participation of all people.''
Cubans on the island gathered hours before the pope arrived, singing
songs with verses such as "The pope is here" and waving Cuban and
Vatican flags, white handkerchiefs and holding signs. By Vatican
estimates, about 200,000 people attended the papal Mass. At least one
person was led away by state security after a verbal outburst, though it
was not immediately known what was said.
After a recital of the Hail Mary prayer, Benedict XVI entered the public
square seated in the protective vehicle known as the Pope Mobile, in
which he is perched on a chair and encased in bullet-proof glass. A
choir of more than 150 local singers sang, "Welcome Holy Father to this
land,'' and once the pope reached the stage the emotional crowd began to
chant, "Benedict, friend, Cuba is with you.''
Ibáñez's words resounded with applause at Miami's Ermita de la Caridad
shrine, where many gathered to watch Benedict XVI celebrate his first
mass in Cuba.
Earlier Monday, the pope extended a message of hope and "reconciliation"
to all Cubans shortly after he arrived in the southeastern city of
Santiago de Cuba, where he was greeted by Cuban ruler Raúl Castro, a
group of Roman Catholic cardinals, a military band and a color guard
hoisting the flags of Cuba and the Vatican.
Cannons fired, and the Cuban national anthem played as the pope stepped
out of an Alitalia jet plane and walked to greet Castro, who held the
pope's hands and bowed his head.
At the welcome ceremony, the pope and Castro strode side-by-side down a
red carpet to a staging area where two chairs and a podium waited under
In his opening remarks, Castro welcomed the pope, and then launched into
an anti-American diatribe condemning the U.S. embargo of Cuba, and what
he called the "oppressive forces" of financial markets presumably
controlled by the United States.
Castro then boasted of Cuba's achievements training foreign doctors and
educating the illiterate, but quickly returned to the primary theme of
his speech: American aggression against Cuba.
Cuba has been under attack by "the most powerful nation in history,'' he
The pope's remarks, however, avoided direct references to politics and
instead were tailored for the Cuban people "wherever they may be," he
said — both on the island, and in exile.
He mentioned the Cuban patriot José Martí and the apparition of Our Lady
of Charity in the mining town of El Cobre, which he called the "keystone
to true identity of Cuban people."
"I, too, wish to go to El Cobre to kneel at the feet of the Mother of
God," the pope said. "I want to ask her to guide the future of this
beloved nation in the ways of justice, peace, freedom and reconciliation."
He added: "I carry in my heart the just aspirations and legitimate
desires of all Cubans, wherever they may be, their sufferings and their
joys, their concerns and their noblest desires, those of the young and
the elderly, of adolescents and children, of the sick and workers, of
prisoners and their families, and of the poor and those in need.''
Real progress, he said, needs an ethic that focuses on the individual
Yet, he expressed confidence in Cuba's move towards progress.
"I am convinced Cuba ... is already looking to the future, and thus is
striving to renew and broaden its horizons," he said.
Franco Ordonez, a McClatchy News Service correspondent, contributed to
this report from Havana. Staff Writer Whitefield contributed to this
report from Santiago de Cuba. Staff Writers Juan O. Tamayo, Juan Carlos
Chavez and Alexandra Leon contributed from Miami.