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The Shepherd Has Landed



Pope Francis (C in white) is welcomed by Cuban President Raul Castro (L of the Pope) upon landing at Havana's international airport on September 19, 2015 on the first leg of a high-profile trip that will also take him to the United States. AFP PHOTO / FILIPPO MONTEFORTE

John Burger - published on 09/19/15

Pope Francis arrives in Cuba, speaking with hope for continued reconciliation

Arriving at Havana’s international airport on a windy, slightly overcast day Saturday afternoon, Pope Francis began his three-day visit to Cuba and a week-long journey to the Caribbean and North America, offering words of hope for continuing reconciliation between the island nation and the United States.

Greeted by children dressed in white and bearing bouquets of flowers and officially welcomed by Cuban President Raul Castro, the Pope said that the recent movement toward the normalization between Cuba and the US “fills us with hope…following years of estrangement.”

Francis is said to have personally facilitated secret negotiations between the two nations, which led to a announcement in December that they were working toward a normalization. The two countries have since reopened their mutual embassies in Washington and Havana.

“It is a sign of the victory of the culture of encounter and dialogue, ‘the system of universal growth’ over ‘the forever-dead system of groups and dynasties,’” the Pope said, quoting national here José Martí. “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 Pontiff asked Castro to convey his greetings to his brother, former President Fidel Castro.

And, in what is possibly a veiled nod to Cuban dissidents, the Pope added, “I would like my greeting to embrace especially all those who, for various reasons, I will not be able to meet, and to Cubans throughout the world.”

He said that his visit renews “bonds of cooperation and friendship” that were begun with the establishment of diplomatic relations between Havana and the Holy See 80 years ago, “so that the Church can continue to support and encourage the Cuban people in its hopes and concerns, with the freedom, the means and the space needed to bring the proclamation of the Kingdom to the existential peripheries of society.”

The Holy Father, from the beginning of his trip, has reminded listeners of the need for greater freedom. He pointed out that his visit coincides with the first centenary of Pope Benedict XV’s declaration of our Lady of Charity of El Cobre as Patroness of Cuba and said that the veterans of the War of Independence “wanted the Virgen mambisa to be the patroness of Cuba as a free and sovereign nation.

“Since that time she has accompanied the history of the Cuban people, sustaining the hope which preserves people’s dignity in the most difficult situations and championing the promotion of all that gives dignity to the human person,” he said. “The growing devotion to the Virgin is a visible testimony of her presence in the soul of the Cuban people. In these days I will have occasion to go to El Cobre, as a son and pilgrim, to pray to our Mother for all her Cuban children and for this beloved nation, that it may travel the paths of justice, peace, liberty and reconciliation.”

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