POPE FRANCIS has told the Cuban people that love and service, not ideology, are the keys to their happiness.
“We do not serve ideas, we serve people,” the Pope told hundreds of thousands gathered in Havana’s Revolution Square for Mass.
For decades the square has been the site of major communist government rallies and it is dominated by a huge image of Ernest “Che” Guevara, an Argentine Marxist who became a leader in the Cuban Revolution of the 1950s.
The image of Che was prominent at the Mass, but so was a banner proclaiming Francis a “missionary of mercy” and a bigger image of the merciful Jesus Christ. After decades of communism, Mass attendance in Cuba is low. 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 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 recalled the Gospel passage from St Mark in which the disciples are arguing about who among them is the greatest. “We, too, can be caught up in these same arguments: who is the most important? The history of humanity has been marked by the answer we give to this question,” he said.
But the greatness of a people and a nation lay in how it served the vulnerable. “Being a Christian entails promoting the dignity of our brothers and sisters, fighting for it, living for it,” he said.
The world needs US-Cuba reconciliation, says Francis
THE POPE began his visit by praying for greater freedom for Cubans and calling on American and Cuban politicians to continue normalising relations. After meeting President Raúl Castro, Pope Francis told a small crowd at Havana’s airport on Saturday that the Cuban-US rapprochement was an “event which fills us with hope” after decades of tension and a 55-year-old embargo against Cuba.
The new relationship, which leaders of both countries said the Pope had had a role in facilitating, was “a sign of the victory of the culture of encounter and dialogue”, Pope Francis said. “I urge political leaders to persevere on this path and to develop all its potentialities as a proof of the high service which they are called to carry out on behalf of the peace and well-being of their peoples, of all America, and as an example of reconciliation for the entire world,” the Pope said.
The Pope continued: “Our world needs this reconciliation at this time of the ‘third world war’, which is being fought in stages,” with multiple small conflicts going on simultaneously. Mr Castro said full normalisation of relations with the US would mean “correcting injustices”.
High-profile dissidents detained
Two high-profile Cuban dissidents have claimed they were prevented by security forces from attending the Pope’s vespers service at Havana Cathedral on Sunday.
Marta Beatriz Roque and Miriam Leiva were invited by the office of the papal ambassador in Havana to attend the service but were arrested as they travelled to the cathedral. Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi confirmed that some dissidents were invited to the events.