“Cuba needs mercy”

Cuba’s Catholic Church greeted Pope Francis with great hope



The Catholic Church in Cuba has had great expectations for the visit of Pope Francis, which began on Saturday. “It is a gift of God that within a short period of time he is already the third Pope to visit Cuba. Pope Francis is coming as the supreme pastor of the universal Church in order to strengthen us in the Faith. That is his most important task. We are hoping that the vitality that was unleashed by the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1998 will be reignited.”This was the sentiment emphasized by Bishop Pepe Felix, the assistant secretary of the Cuban bishops’ conference, speaking on Thursday in Havana to the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

Project trip of Ulrich Kny

“All Cubans believe in God. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. In the end, all we have is our faith. What would we be without it?”

“The Pope is coming to us as a missionary of mercy. And so he is bringing something very precious with him. Cuba needs mercy, both the spiritual and the corporal works of mercy”, Bishop Felix insisted. He went on to emphasize that Pope Francis can expect a particularly heartfelt welcome, for a number of different reasons. “The Cuban people are very grateful to Pope Francis for the role he played in the diplomatic rapprochement between Cuba and the United States. This is also true of those who are not Catholics.”

In addition he noted that this Argentinian Pope is a Latin American, who speaks the same language and understands the culture. “It is of course also true that this is the first real visit by the Pope to Cuba. The last time he only stopped for a few hours at the airport, in order to transfer into another aircraft,” Bishop Felix recalls. “But he knows the Church in Cuba very well from his meetings with bishops. This will help us to establish good mutual relations.”


Normalizing the situation of the Church in Cuba

On Thursday the chairman of the Conference of Cuban Religious, Father Juan Miguel Arregui Echeverria, emphasized to ACN the missionary possibilities of the papal visit. “For 50 years Cuba was a spiritual wasteland. People know little about religion. I hope the Pope will help with his spirituality to strengthen the religious awareness within the people.”

Father  Juan Miguel Arregui Echevarria SJ, a Spanish Jesuit
Father Juan Miguel Arregui Echevarria SJ,
a Spanish Jesuit

Father Juan, a Spanish Jesuit, also expressed the hope that the visit will help to extend the Church’s room for manoeuvre on the island. “This visit, we hope, will be an important step in normalizing the situation of the Church in Cuba. Until not so long ago the Church could only operate within the church walls. She was also restricted to the purely spiritual sphere, namely the celebration of Holy Mass and the administration of the Sacraments. For the past few years we have been able to do more things, such as charitable and educational work. We believe that with the papal visit this charitable and educational work of the Church within society will become a little more normal.”

Among Cuba’s ordinary Catholics the enthusiasm for the forthcoming visit is immense. “Pope Francis is so important to us. We love him, because he is helping Cuba and our Church,” says Amalia Miguel from Guiteras, a suburb of Havana. “All Cubans believe in God. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. In the end, all we have is our faith. What would we be without it?”

Pope Francis  arrived on Saturday for a four-day visit to Cuba. In addition to the capital Havana, he also visited the cities of Holguin and Santiago, before travelling on to the United States.

ACN has been helping the Catholic Church in Cuba for many years. In this year and last year alone, the charity has given over 2.3 million dollars for pastoral projects, which have included the building and renovation of churches and the training and support of priests and religious. Approximately 60% of the Cuban people regard themselves as Catholics.

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