Speeches 1998 - Shrine of St Lazarus, El Rincón



TO CUBA (JANUARY 21-26, 1998)



Sunday, 25 January 1998

1. On this memorable day, I am very pleased to meet you, the representatives of the Cuban Council of Churches and of various other Christian communities, accompanied by members of the Jewish community in Cuba, which participates in the Council as an observer. I greet all of you with great affection and I assure you of my happiness at this meeting with those with whom we share faith in the living and true God. This auspicious occasion prompts us to say before all else: "How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity" (Ps 132,1).

I have come to this country as a messenger of hope and truth, to encourage and confirm in faith the Bishops and faithful of the different Dioceses (cf. Lk Lc 23,32). But it has also been my wish that my greeting should reach all Cubans, as a concrete sign of God's infinite love for everyone. In this visit to Cuba, as is my custom on my apostolic journeys, I could not fail to have this meeting with you, sharing as I do your concern for the restoration of unity among Christians and for co-operation in favour of the overall progress of the Cuban people, a progress which also calls for the spiritual and transcendent values of faith. Our meeting is possible thanks to our shared hope in the promises of salvation which God has made to us and which he has manifested to us in Christ Jesus, the Saviour of the human race.

2. Today, on the feast of the Conversion of St Paul, the Apostle whom "Christ made his own" (cf. Phil Ph 3,12) and who thenceforth devoted all his energies to preaching the Gospel to the nations, we conclude the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This year we have celebrated it under the theme: "The Spirit comes to help us in our weakness" (Rm 8,26). Through this annual week of prayer, which was instituted many years ago and which has taken on an increasing significance, we try not only to draw the attention of all Christians to the importance of the ecumenical movement, but also to emphasize in a practical and clear way the pillars upon which all ecumenical activities must be founded.

This moment offers me the opportunity to reaffirm, in this land so deeply nourished by the Christian faith, the irrevocable commitment of the Church to persevere in her ardent desire for the full unity of Christ's disciples, repeating constantly with him: "Father, may they all be one" (cf. Jn Jn 17,21) and thus obeying his will. This commitment must not be lacking in any part of the Church, regardless of the sociological situation in which she might find herself. Each nation, it is true, has its own culture and its own religious history, and therefore ecumenical activities in different places have distinct and special characteristics. But beyond that, it is most important that relations between all who have the same faith in God should always be fraternal. No historical circumstance, no ideological or cultural conditioning should hinder these fraternal relations, the centre and purpose of which must be solely to serve the unity which Jesus wished.

We know that a return to full communion demands love, courage and hope, which are the fruit of persevering prayer, the source of every commitment truly inspired by the Lord. From this prayer come purification of the heart and interior conversion, both of which are essential in discerning the action of the Holy Spirit as the guide of individuals, of the Church and of history. Prayer also fosters a oneness of heart which transforms our wills and makes them docile to the promptings of the Spirit. This is likewise the way to nourish an ever more lively faith. It is the Spirit who has guided the ecumenical movement, and to the same Spirit is to be attributed the significant progress which has been made and which has taken us beyond the times when relations between the different Christian communities were marked by a mutual indifference, which in some places also turned to open hostility.

3. Intense dedication to ensuring the unity of all Christians is one of the signs of hope which mark the latter part of this century (cf. Tertio millennio adveniente, TMA 46). This sign applies also to the Christians of Cuba, who are called not only to engage in dialogue in a spirit of respect but also to work together in mutual accord on joint projects designed to help the entire population to progress in peace and to grow in the essential values of the Gospel, which confer dignity upon the human person and make human society more just and cohesive. Together with the dialogue of truth, we are all called to pursue a daily dialogue of charity, which can present to Cuban society as a whole the true image of Christ and foster understanding of his redeeming mission and of commitment to the salvation of all people.

4. I also wish to address a particular greeting to the Jewish community represented here. Your presence is an eloquent expression of the fraternal dialogue aimed at a better understanding between Jews and Catholics, and which, promoted by the Second Vatican Council, continues to be ever more widespread. With you we share a common spiritual patrimony, firmly rooted in the Sacred Scriptures. May God, the Creator and Saviour, sustain our efforts to walk together and, encouraged by the divine word, may we grow in worship and fervent love of him. May all of this ever find expression in effective action for the benefit of each and every person.

5. To conclude, I wish to thank each one of you for your presence at this meeting, and I ask God to bless you and your communities and to keep you in his ways so that you may proclaim his name to the brethren. May he show you his face in the midst of the society which you serve, and may he grant you peace in all your undertakings.

Havana, 25 January 1998, feast of the Conversion of St Paul.




TO CUBA (JANUARY 21-26, 1998)


Sunday, 25 January 1998

Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,

1. I am very happy to be with you, the Bishops of the Catholic Church in Cuba, for these moments of quiet reflection and fraternal encounter, as we share the joys and hopes, the desires and aspirations of this portion of the pilgrim People of God in this land. I was able to visit four of the 11 Dioceses of the country, but in my heart I have visited all of them. During these days I have experienced the vitality of the ecclesial communities and their ability to bring people together, which is due also to the credibility which the Church has gained through her persevering witness and her timely message. The limitations of recent years have made the Church poorer in material resources and personnel, but those same trials have enriched her, stimulating her creativity and spirit of sacrifice in the service of the faithful.

I give thanks to God that the Cross has borne fruit in this land; indeed, the Cross of Christ is the source of that hope which does not disappoint but produces abundant fruit. For some time, the faith in Cuba has had to endure various trials which have been borne with firm hope and lively charity, in the knowledge that effort and commitment are needed to walk the way of the Cross and to follow in the footsteps of Christ, who never forgets his people. At this hour in history we rejoice, not because the harvest is over, but because by lifting our eyes we can contemplate the fruits of evangelization growing in Cuba.

2. Over five centuries ago, the Cross of Christ was planted in this beautiful and bountiful land, in such a way that its light, which shines in the midst of the darkness, made it possible for the Catholic and apostolic faith to take root here. The Catholic faith is truly part of Cuba's identity and culture. This fact inspires many citizens to acknowledge the Church as their Mother who, in carrying out her spiritual mission and proclaiming the Gospel message and her social teaching, promotes the integral development of individuals and their participation in society on the basis of ethical principles and authentic moral values. The circumstances in which the Church carries out her activity have been gradually changing, and this is a source of increased hope for the future. There remains nonetheless a certain minimalist way of looking at things which would put the Catholic Church on the same level as certain other cultural expressions of religious piety, on a par with the syncretist cults which, while deserving of respect, cannot be considered a specific religion but rather an ensemble of traditions and beliefs.

The Cuban people have placed much hope and great trust in the Church, as I have been able to observe in these past days. True, some of these expectations exceed the Church's specific mission, but as far as possible all of them must be considered by the ecclesial community. You, dear Brothers, by being close to everyone, are privileged witnesses of these expectations of the people, many of whom truly believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and in his Church, which has remained faithful even in the face of numerous difficulties.

3. I know how concerned you are, as Pastors, that the Church in Cuba seems increasingly strained by the growing numbers of those in need of her various services. I know that you cannot fail to respond to these demands nor cease to seek the means to do so effectively and with genuine charity. This does not cause you to demand that the Church should have a dominant or exclusive position in society, but rather that she occupy her rightful place in the midst of the people and have the possibility of adequately serving the brethren. Continue your efforts to discern those areas which rightly belong to the Church, not for the sake of increasing her power — for this is alien to her mission — but for the sake of increasing her ability to serve others. In this undertaking and with ecumenical openness, seek the healthy co-operation of other Christian confessions and maintain a frank dialogue with the institutions of the State and the independent agencies of civil society, endeavouring always to deepen and expand that dialogue.

From her divine Founder the Church has received the mission of guiding men and women in worshiping the living and true God, in singing his praises and proclaiming his wonders, and in professing that there is "one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all" (Ep 4,5). But the sacrifice acceptable to God is, as the Prophet Isaiah says, "to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free ... to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house, [and] when you see the naked, to cover him.... Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard" (Is 58,6-8). The Church's liturgical, prophetic and charitable mission is in fact indissolubly one, for both the prophetic word in defence of the poor and charitable service give authenticity and consistency to worship.

Respect for religious freedom must ensure the opportunities, programmes and means by which these three dimensions of the Church's mission can be carried out so that, in addition to worship, the Church can devote herself to the proclamation of the truth of the Gospel,the defence of justice and peace, and the integral development of the human person. None of these dimensions should be restricted; one does not exclude the others, nor should one be emphasized at the cost of the others.

When the Church demands religious freedom she is not asking for a gift, a privilege or a permission dependent on contingent situations, political strategies or the will of the authorities. Rather she demands the effective recognition of an inalienable human right. This right cannot be conditioned by the behaviour of the Pastors and the faithful, nor by the surrender of the exercise of any aspect of her mission, much less by ideological or economic considerations. It is not simply a matter of a right belonging to the Church as an institution, it is also a matter of a right belonging to every person and every people. Every individual and every people will be spiritually enriched to the extent that religious freedom is acknowledged and put into practice.

Furthermore, as I have already had occasion to state: "Religious freedom is a very important means of strengthening a people's moral integrity. Civil society can count on believers who, because of their deep convictions, will not only not succumb readily to dominating ideologies or trends, but will endeavour to act in accordance with their aspirations to all that is true and right" (Message for the 1988 World Day of Peace, n. 3).

4. For this reason, dear Brothers, commit yourselves completely to promoting everything that favours the dignity and continuing improvement of human beings, for this is the first path that the Church must follow in fulfilling her mission (cf. Redemptor hominis RH 14). You, dear Bishops of Cuba, have preached the truth about man, which belongs to the fundamental core of the Christian faith and is indissolubly linked to the truth about Christ and about the Church. In a variety of ways you have borne a consistent witness to Christ. Whenever you have maintained that human dignity is superior to every social, economic, political or other structure, you have proclaimed a moral truth which elevates man and leads him, by God's mysterious ways, to an encounter with Jesus Christ the Saviour. It is man whom we must serve with freedom in the name of Christ, without allowing this service to be obstructed by particular historical situations and even, on occasion, by arbitrariness or disorder.

When the scale of values is inverted and politics, the economy and social activity are no longer placed at the service of people, the human person comes to be viewed as a means rather than respected as the centre and end of all these activities, and man is made to suffer in his essence and in his transcendent dimension. Human beings are then seen simply as consumers, and freedom is understood in a very individualistic and reductive sense, or men and women are seen as mere producers with little room for the exercise of civil and political liberties. None of these social and political models fosters a climate of openness to the transcendence of the person who freely seeks God.

I encourage you therefore to continue in your service of defending and promoting human dignity, and of proclaiming with persevering commitment that "only in the mystery of the Incarnate Word does the mystery of man become clear. For Adam, the first man, was a figure of him who was to come, namely Christ the Lord. Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and his love, fully reveals man to himself and brings his supreme calling to light" (Gaudium et spes GS 22). This is part of the mission of the Church, a mission which "cannot remain insensitive to anything that serves the true good of man, just as it cannot remain indifferent to anything that threatens him" (Redemptor hominis RH 14).

5. I am well aware of your pastoral sensitivity, which leads you to face with pastoral charity situations which threaten human life and dignity. Among the faithful and the Cuban people as a whole, strive to foster respect for life from the mother's womb, a respect which always excludes recourse to abortion, a criminal act. Work for the promotion and defence of the family and for the sanctity and indissolubility of Christian marriage against the evils of divorce and separation which cause so much suffering. In your pastoral charity encourage young people who are in search of opportunities to achieve their goal of building their personal and social life on authentic spiritual values. You need to make special efforts to care for this segment of your people, and to ensure that an adequate catechetical, moral and civic formation will foster or perfect in them that much-needed "expansion of the soul" to which my Predecessor Paul VI referred. This will enable them to make up for the loss of values and meaning in their lives, through a solid human and Christian education.

Together with your priests — your primary and beloved co-workers — and the men and women religious at work in this Church in Cuba, continue to carry out the task of evangelization which brings the Good News of Jesus Christ to all those thirsting for love, truth and justice. Remain close to your seminarians and help them to acquire a solid intellectual, human and spiritual formation which will enable them to be conformed to Christ the Good Shepherd, to love the Church and the people to whom they will one day minister with generosity and enthusiasm. May they be the first to benefit from the missionary spirit of this Church.

Encourage the lay faithful to live out their vocation with courage and perseverance, to be present in all areas of social and national life, to bear witness to the truth about Christ and about man, and, together with other people of good will, to seek solutions to the various moral, social, political, economic, cultural and spiritual problems facing society. With effectiveness and humility they should take part in all efforts to improve the sometimes critical situations affecting everyone, so that the nation may attain more humane standards of living. The Catholic faithful, like all other citizens, have the right and the duty to contribute to their country's progress. Through civic dialogue and responsible participation new areas can be found for the action of the laity; it is desirable that committed laypeople continue to prepare themselves for this activity by studying and applying the Church's social teaching which, being inspired by the Gospel, is capable of shedding light on every situation.

I know that in your pastoral concern you have not neglected those people who for various reasons have left the country but still feel that they are sons and daughters of Cuba. To the extent that they consider themselves Cubans, they too must co-operate, peacefully and in a constructive and respectful way, in the nation's progress, avoiding useless confrontations and encouraging an atmosphere of positive dialogue and mutual understanding. As much as is possible and in co-operation with other Episcopates, help them through your proclamation of the highest spiritual values to be builders of peace and harmony, of reconciliation and hope, and to practise a generous solidarity with their Cuban brothers and sisters most in need; thus they will demonstrate their profound attachment to their homeland.

I hope that in your pastoral activity you, the Bishops of Cuba, will gain ever greater access to the modern technologies which can be of help in your evangelizing and educating mission. The secular State should not fear but rather appreciate the Church's moral and educational role. In this respect it is normal that the Church should have access to the communications media — radio, press and television — and that she should be able to count on her own resources in these fields as a means of proclaiming the living and true God to men and women everywhere. In this work of evangelization, Catholic publications should be promoted and improved; they should more effectively serve the proclamation of the truth, not only to the members of the Church but also to the entire Cuban people.

6. My Pastoral Visit is taking place at a very special moment in the life of the whole Church: the preparation for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. As Pastors of this portion of the pilgrim People of God in Cuba you share in the spirit of this preparation, and through your Global Pastoral Plan you have encouraged every community to live "that new springtime of Christian life which will be revealed by the Great Jubilee, if Christians are docile to the action of the Holy Spirit" (Tertio millennio adveniente, TMA 18). May the Global Pastoral Plan give continuity to my visit and to an experience of the Church as incarnational, participatory and prophetic as she strives to be at the service of the integral promotion of all Cubans. All of this requires an adequate formation which — as you have said — "should restore man as a person in his human, ethical, civic and religious values and enable him to fulfil his mission in the Church and in society" (II ENEC, Memorial, p. 38). This requires "the creation and the renewal of Dioceses, parishes and small communities which can foster participation and co-responsibility, and which can live out, in solidarity and service, their mission of evangelization" (ibid.).

7. Dear Brothers, at the conclusion of these reflections I wish to assure you that I am returning to Rome with great hope for the future after seeing the vitality of this Church. I am aware of the extent of the challenges which you face, but also of your valiant spirit and your ability to take on this task. With this confidence I encourage you to continue to be "ministers of reconciliation" (cf. 2Co 5,19), so that the people entrusted to you, putting behind them the difficulties of the past, can advance along the path of reconciliation among all Cubans without exception. As you well know, forgiveness is not incompatible with justice, and the future of this country must be built on peace, which is the fruit of justice and of forgiveness offered and accepted.

Continue to be "messengers who proclaim peace" (cf. Is Is 52,7) so that a just and worthy society will develop, one in which everyone will meet a climate of mutual tolerance and respect. As co-workers of the Lord, you are God's field, God's building (cf. 1Co 3,9). May the faithful find in you authentic teachers of truth and concerned guides of his People, committed to the material, moral and spiritual good of all, in accordance with the exhortation of the Apostle Paul: "Let each man take care how he builds! For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (1Co 3,10-11).

With our eyes fixed on our Saviour, "the same yesterday and today and for ever" (He 13,8), and commending all our hopes and aspirations to the Mother of Christ and of the Church, venerated in Cuba under the fairest title of Our Lady of Charity, I cordially impart to you my Apostolic Blessing as a token of affection and a sign of the grace which accompanies you in your ministry.



TO CUBA (JANUARY 21-26, 1998)


Sunday, 25 January 1998

Dear Brothers in the Episcopate and the Priesthood,
Beloved Men and Women Religious,
Seminarians and Faithful,

1. In these last few hours of my Pastoral Visit I am filled with joy in meeting you, the representatives of those who, with joy and hope, in trials and sacrifice, take up the exhilarating task of evangelization in this land marked by so singular a history.

I am grateful for the kind words which Cardinal Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino, Archbishop of Havana, has spoken, giving voice to the feelings of affection and esteem which you nurture towards the Successor of the Apostle Peter. I wish to respond in kind, assuring you once more of my own great affection in the Lord, affection which extends to all the sons and daughters of this island.

2. We are gathered in this metropolitan cathedral dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, on the day when the liturgy celebrates the conversion of St Paul. On the road to Damascus St Paul was visited by the risen Lord and was converted from a persecutor of Christians to a fearless and tireless Apostle of Jesus Christ. His shining example and his teachings should serve as your guide in facing and overcoming day by day the many obstacles to the fulfilment of your mission; in this way energy and enthusiasm for advancing the kingdom of God will not diminish.

In your national history there have been many pastors who, because of unshakeable fidelity to Christ and his Church, have stood by the people in every trial. The witness of their generous dedication, their words in proclaiming the Gospel and in defending the dignity and inalienable rights of persons, and their promotion of the integral well- being of the nation are a precious spiritual patrimony worthy of preservation and cultivation. Among these pastors, I have referred in these days to the Servant of God Fr Félix Varela, faithful to his priesthood and active in promoting the common good of the entire Cuban people. I recall as well the Servant of God José Olallo, of the Hospitaller Brothers of St John of God, a witness to mercy whose life in service to the most needy is a magnificent example of consecration to the Lord. Let us hope that their processes of canonization will soon be concluded, in order that they may be invoked by the faithful. Many other Cuban men and women — priests, religious and laity — have also given proof of faith, of perseverance in their mission, and of consecration to the cause of the Gospel.

3. Dear priests, the Lord abundantly blesses your daily dedication to the service of the Church and the people, even when difficulties and antipathies arise. For my part, I express appreciation and gratitude for your response to divine grace. By grace you are called to be fishers of men (cf. Mk Mc 1,17), without letting yourselves be overwhelmed by the weariness or discouragement produced because of the immensity of your apostolate, resulting from the reduced number of priests and the many pastoral demands involved in attending to the faithful who open their hearts to the Gospel, as has been experienced in the recent mission by which you prepared for my visit.

Do not lose hope even though you lack the material means for your mission or because the scarcity of resources causes a large part of the population to suffer. Accepting the Lord's invitation, continue to work for the kingdom of God and his justice, and the rest will be given to you as well (cf. Lk Lc 12,31). In close union with the Bishops and as an expression of the dynamic ecclesial communion characteristic of this Church, do all that you can to continue to enlighten people's consciences in the development of human, ethical and religious values, the absence of which affects whole segments of society, especially the young who are therefore most vulnerable.

The increase of priestly vocations, as indicated by encouraging statistics, and the arrival of new missionaries, which we ardently hope will be made easier, will make the apostolate more far-reaching and, as a result, will bring benefit to everyone.

Conscious that "our help comes from the Lord" (Ps 121 [120]:2), that he alone is our support and our strength, I encourage you never to forsake personal, daily and extended prayer, that you may become more and more like Christ, the Good Shepherd; for in him is found the principal source of our energy and our true rest (cf. Mt Mt 11,30). In this way you will be able to face joyfully the burden of "the day and the heat" (cf. Mt Mt 20,12) and will thus give the best testimony for promoting the priestly and religious vocations which are so greatly needed.

The preaching of the Word of God and the celebration of the sacraments constitute the prophetic and liturgical mission of the priest; but the priestly ministry extends also to works of charity, assistance and human development. In these areas, the work of deacons and members of various institutes and ecclesial associations is also important. God willing, may it be made easier for you to receive and distribute the resources which so many sister Churches want to share with you, may you find the most appropriate ways to meet the needs of your brothers and sisters, and may this work encounter ever greater comprehension and appreciation.

4. I express thanks for the presence in this country of consecrated men and women from different religious institutes. For some decades, you have had to live your vocation in very unusual circumstances and, without renouncing what is specific to your charism, you have had to adapt to the prevailing situation and respond to the pastoral needs of the Dioceses. I thank you also for your praiseworthy and much valued pastoral work, and for your service of Christ in the poor, the sick and the elderly. Let us hope that in a not-too- distant future the Church will be able to resume her role in the field of education, a task which religious institutes carry out in many places with high commitment and with great benefit to civil society.

The Church admires in you and expects from you the witness of a life transfigured by the profession of the evangelical counsels (cf. Vita consecrata, VC 20) giving witness to love through a chastity which makes the heart grow stronger, a poverty which breaks down barriers, and an obedience which builds communion in the community, in the Church and in the world.

The faith of the Cuban people whom you serve has been the source and lifeblood of the culture of this nation. As consecrated persons, seek and foster a genuine process of inculturation of the faith which will facilitate the proclamation, acceptance and practice of the Gospel for all.

5. Dear seminarians and novices, be eager to acquire a solid human and Christian formation in which the spiritual life occupies pride of place. In this way prepare yourselves to undertake more effectively the ministry which will be entrusted to you in due course. Look with hope to the future when you will have special responsibilities. With a view to this, strengthen your fidelity to Christ and his Gospel, increase your love of the Church and your dedication to his people.

The two seminaries, which are now becoming too small to accommodate your numbers, have contributed notably to the awareness of Cuban national identity. May these distinguished religious houses continue to foster a fruitful synthesis of piety and virtue, of faith and culture, of love for Christ and his Church and love for the people.

6. To the laity here present, who represent so many others, I am grateful for your daily fidelity in maintaining the flame of faith in the heart of your families, thus overcoming all obstacles and working courageously to make the spirit of the Gospel present in society. I invite you to nourish faith by means of a continuing biblical and catechetical formation which will help you persevere in your witness to Christ, pardoning offences, exercising the right — as Catholic believers — to serve the people in all the ways already open to you and working to gain access to those still closed. The work of a committed Catholic laity lies precisely in the areas of culture, economics, politics and the media in order to transmit through these channels the truth about Christ and the human person, and the hope which flows from that truth. In this regard, Catholic publications and other such initiatives should have the means necessary to serve Cuban society as a whole. I urge you to pursue this path, which is an expression of your vitality as believers and of your genuine Christian vocation to the service of truth and to the service of Cuba.

7. Dear brethren, the Cuban people need you because they need God, who is the foundation of their lives. As part of this people, show them that Christ alone is the Way, the Truth and the Life, that he alone has the words of everlasting life (cf. Jn Jn 6,68-69). The Pope is close to you, he accompanies you with his prayer and his affection, and he commends you to the maternal protection of the Blessed Virgin, Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, Mother of all Cubans. To her, Star of the new evangelization, I entrust the work of all of you and the well-being of this beloved nation.

At the end of his address the Holy Father spoke extemporaneously:

We are concluding this visit on 25 January, which is the feast of the Conversion of St Paul. The last Eucharist, celebrated in Revolution Plaza, is very significant because Paul's conversion is a profound, continual and holy revolution, valid for all ages.

Speeches 1998 - Shrine of St Lazarus, El Rincón