An estimated 300 thousand Cuban faithful filled Havana’s Revolution Square for an open air Mass presided over by Pope Benedict XVI on the final day of his visit to the Americas. On a trip to the Cuban capital a few years back, the granddaughter of author Ernest Hemingway was heard to remark that Cuba has three icons: Che Guevara, Fidel Castro and her grandfather. Certainly the American author and journalist is still revered around here with hotels, bars and restaurants named after him and his medal for the 1954 Nobel prize for literature kept safely inside the shrine of Our Lady of El Cobre, where he left it as a sign of his love for the Cuban people.
Images of the country’s two revolutionary leaders are also to be found everywhere around Havana, including the famous black portraits silhouetted on the front of the Interior Ministry in Revolution Square where Pope Benedict celebrated Mass on at the end of his visit to Cuba. The square, made famous by Fidel’s political rallies, was filled with hundreds of thousands of faithful who’d come from all over Cuba, as well as from the United States, to join the Pope in praying for a new kind of revolution here – one that will change hearts, promote peace and set people free.
In his homily Pope Benedict spoke of faith and reason as the two keys for those who pursue the truth – anyone who acts irrationally, he said, cannot become a disciple of Christ. Returning to a central theme of this short visit to Cuba, the Pope stressed that in order to carry out her mission in pursuit of that truth, the Church here must be able to enjoy more freedom to proclaim and celebrate the faith in public and to promote reconciliation, through education and other social services.
Recalling in particular the legacy of Fr Felix Varela, a 19th century Cuban writer, teacher and human rights defender, Pope Benedict said Cuba and the world must change for the benefit of all people here. Many of those gathered in Revolution square will remember similar words spoken by Pope John Paul II on his historic visit to the island 14 years ago – a visit that has been immortalized in statues and pictures of the previous Pope in Churches and shrines around the country. On his visit to the basilica of Our Lady of Charity, patron of the Cuban people, Pope Benedict stood outside between twin statues of his predecessor and Fr Varela, who will soon be on the road to sainthood. Three new icons perhaps for a Church and a nation longing for a brighter future of peace, prosperity and freedom.
Below the text of Pope Benedict XVI’s Homily at Mass in Revolution Square, Havana
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
“Blessed are you, Lord God…, and blessed is your holy and glorious name” (Dan 3:52). This hymn of blessing from the Book of Daniel resounds today in our liturgy, inviting us repeatedly to bless and thank God. We are a part of that great chorus which praises the Lord without ceasing. We join in this concert of thanksgiving, and we offer our joyful and confident voice, which seeks to consolidate the journey of faith in love and truth.
“Blessed be God” who gathers us in this historic square so that we may more profoundly enter into his life. I feel great joy in being here with you today to celebrate Holy Mass during this Jubilee Year devoted to Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre.
I greet with cordial affection Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino, Archbishop of Havana, and I thank him for the kind words which he has addressed to me on your behalf. I extend warm greetings to the Cardinals and to my brother Bishops of Cuba and other countries who wished to take part in this solemn celebration. I also greet the priests, seminarians, men and women religious, and all the lay faithful gathered here, as well as the civil authorities who join us.
In today’s first reading, the three young men persecuted by the Babylonian king preferred to face death by fire rather than betray their conscience and their faith. They experienced the strength to “give thanks, glorify and praise God” in the conviction that the Lord of the universe and of history would not abandon them to death and annihilation. Truly, God never abandons his children, he never forgets them. He is above us and is able to save us by his power. At the same time, he is near to his people, and through his Son Jesus Christ he has wished to make his dwelling place among us in.
“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (Jn 8:31). In this text from today’s Gospel, Jesus reveals himself as the Son of God the Father, the Saviour, the one who alone can show us the truth and give genuine freedom. His teaching provokes resistance and disquiet among his hearers, and he accuses them of seeking to kill him, alluding to the supreme sacrifice of the Cross, already imminent. Even so, he exhorts them to believe, to keep his word, so as to know the truth which redeems and dignifies.
The truth is a desire of the human person, the search for which always supposes the exercise of authentic freedom. Many, however, prefer shortcuts, trying to avoid this task. Some, like Pontius Pilate, ironically question the possibility of even knowing what truth is (cf. Jn 18:38), proclaiming that man is incapable of knowing it or denying that there exists a truth valid for all. This attitude, as in the case of scepticism and relativism, changes hearts, making them cold, wavering, distant from others and closed. They, like the Roman governor, wash their hands and let the water of history drain away without taking a stand.
On the other hand, there are those who wrongly interpret this search for the truth, leading them to irrationality and fanaticism; they close themselves up in “their truth”, and try to impose it on others. These are like the blind scribes who, upon seeing Jesus beaten and bloody, cry out furiously, “Crucify him!” (cf. Jn 19:6). Anyone who acts irrationally cannot become a disciple of Jesus. Faith and reason are necessary and complementary in the pursuit of truth. God created man with an innate vocation to the truth and he gave him reason for this purpose. Certainly, it is not irrationality but rather the yearning for truth which the Christian faith promotes. Each human being has to seek the truth and to choose it when he or she finds it, even at the risk of embracing sacrifices.
Furthermore, the truth which stands above humanity is an unavoidable condition for attaining freedom, since in it we discover the foundation of an ethics on which all can converge and which contains clear and precise indications concerning life and death, duties and rights, marriage, family and society, in short, regarding the inviolable dignity of the human person. This ethical patrimony can bring together different cultures, peoples and religions, authorities and citizens, citizens among themselves, and believers in Christ and non-believers.
Christianity, in highlighting those values which sustain ethics, does not impose, but rather proposes Christ’s invitation to know the truth which sets us free. The believer is called to offer that truth to his contemporaries, as did the Lord, even before the dark omen of rejection and the Cross. The personal encounter with the one who is Truth in person compels us to share this treasure with others, especially by our witness.
Dear friends, do not hesitate to follow Jesus Christ. In him we find the truth about God and about mankind. He helps us to overcome our selfishness, to rise above our ambitions and to conquer all that oppresses us. The one who does evil, who sins, becomes a slave of sin and will never attain freedom (cf. Jn 8:34). Only by renouncing hatred and our hard and blind hearts will we be free and a new life will well up in us.
Convinced that it is Christ who is the true measure of man, and knowing that in him we find the strength needed to face every trial, I wish to proclaim openly Jesus Christ as the way, the truth and the life. In him everyone will find complete freedom, the light to understand reality more deeply and to transform it by the renewing power of love.
The Church lives to make others sharers in the one thing she possesses, which is none other than Christ, our hope of glory (cf. Col 1:27). To carry out this duty, she must count on basic religious freedom, which consists in her being able to proclaim and to celebrate her faith also in public, bringing to others the message of love, reconciliation and peace which Jesus brought to the world. It must be said with joy that in Cuba steps have been taken to enable the Church to carry out her essential mission of expressing her faith openly and publicly. Nonetheless, this must continue forwards, and I wish to encourage the country’s Government authorities to strengthen what has already been achieved and advance along this path of genuine service to the true good of Cuban society as a whole.
The right to freedom of religion, both in its private and in its public dimension, manifests the unity of the human person, who is at once a citizen and a believer. It also legitimizes the fact that believers have a contribution to make to the building up of society. Strengthening religious freedom consolidates social bonds, nourishes the hope of a better world, creates favourable conditions for peace and harmonious development, while at the same time establishing solid foundations for securing the rights of future generations.
When the Church upholds this human right, she is not claiming any special privileges for herself. She wishes only to be faithful to the command of her divine founder, conscious that, where Christ is present, mankind becomes more human and founds its consistency. This is why the Church seeks to give witness by her preaching and teaching, both in catechesis and in schools and universities. It is greatly to be hoped that the moment will soon arrive when, here too, the Church can bring to the arenas of knowledge the benefits of the mission which the Lord entrusted to her and which she can never neglect.
A shining example of this commitment was the outstanding priest Félix Varela, educator and teacher, an illustrious son of this city of Havana, who has taken his place in Cuban history as the first one who taught his people how to think. Father Varela offers us a path to a true social transformation: to form virtuous men and women in order to forge a worthy and free nation, for this transformation depends on man’s spiritual life, in as much as “there is no authentic fatherland without virtue” (Letters to Elpidio, Letter 6, Madrid 1836, 220). Cuba and the world need change, but this will occur only if each one is in a position to seek the truth and chooses the way of love, sowing reconciliation and fraternity.
Invoking the maternal protection of Mary Most Holy, let us ask that each time we participate in the Eucharist we will also become witnesses to that charity which responds to evil with good (cf. Rom 12:51), offering ourselves as a living sacrifice to the one who lovingly gave himself up for our sake. Let us walk in the light of Christ who alone can destroy the darkness of error. And let us beg him that, with the courage and strength of the saints, we may be able, without fear or rancour but freely, generously and consistently, to respond to God. Amen.