HOW POPE JOHN PAUL II CONVINCED FIDEL TO CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS – MIAMI ARCHBISHOP RECALLS CATHOLIC PERSECUTION IN CUBA, PRAYS FOR PEACE

Two post-Castro stories, a papal spokesman and a bishop….

HOW POPE JOHN PAUL II CONVINCED FIDEL TO CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS

(La Stampa newspaper) – The Polish Pope’s former spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls said the late Fidel Castro “wanted to know everything there was to know about John Paul II.”

“Fidel Castro kept me talking for six hours. He was fascinated by John Paul II and although he was jealous of his inner life. I sensed he wanted to delve deeper… I told him he was a lucky man because the Pope prayed for him every day. For once he was silent.”

jp-fidel

On the occasion of Pope Wojtyla’s visit to Cuba in January 1998, the role of Joaquín Navarro-Valls, John Paul II’s spokesman, went far beyond his official duties as director of the Holy See Press Office. He talked about it with Andrea Tornielli in an interview with Italian daily La Stampa. (It is customary in Italian media to often use the family name of a Pope when referencing him, thus Pope Wojtyla).

How did the Pope’s visit to the island come about after he had helped bring down the Berlin Wall, one of the last bastions of communism? “John Paul II had been sending delegates to Cuba for a decade or so. The Vatican “minister for foreign affairs”, Jean Louis Tauran also went. The Pope was eager to visit the island but he still hadn’t received an invitation. Finally, in November 1996, Castro came to Rome for an FAO meeting, he was received in the Vatican and formally invited the Pope.”

How did you prepare for the visit? “We worked for the whole of 1997 to organise it. Three months prior to the visit, in October that year, I went to Havana and met Fidel. It was a long meeting that went on for six hours and ended at around three in the morning. Castro was fascinated by John Paul II, he wanted to know everything there was to know about him, who his family was, what his life had been like. He wanted to know more about Wojtyla as a man and gave away his admiration for him. I sensed he wanted to delve deeper. I said to him: “Mr. President, I envy you”. “Why?” “Because the Pope prays for you every day, he prays that a man of your education may find the way of the Lord again.” For once, the Cuban president was silent.”

What did you ask Castro on behalf of the Holy See? “I explained to him that now that the date of the visit was set – for 21 January 1998 – it would be interesting if it were a great success. ‘Cuba needs to surprise the word,” I told him. Fidel agreed. So I added something about the surprises the Pope was expecting. I asked Castro for Christmas, which was just around the corner, to be celebrated as an official holiday for the first time since the start of the Revolution.”

How did the Líder Máximo react? “He said it would be very difficult as Christmas fell right in the middle of the sugar cane harvesting season. To which I responded: ‘But the Holy Father would like to be able to publicly thank you for this gesture once he lands in Havana.’ After a long discussion, Castro finally said yes, although he did add; ‘But it could be for this year only.’ All I said was: ‘Great, the Pope will be grateful to you for this. And as for next year, we’ll see.’ As we know, to this day, Christmas is still celebrated as a public holiday in Cuba.”

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How did Pope Wojtyla view Castro? “On the flight to Havana, a journalist asked the Pope what advice he would give to the US president regarding the stance it should adopt towards Cuba: ‘To change!’ he replied. Then he was asked what he expected from Cuba’s president and this is how he responded: ‘I expect him to explain his true nature to me, as a man, as a leader and as a commander in chief’. I wasn’t on that flight, I was already in Havana. I received the text of that reply and I showed it to Castro while I was waiting for the Pope to land. That way there would be a written agenda for their meeting. The face-to-face meeting lasted quite a while and at the end of it they both came out smiling. I remember the mass in the Plaza de la Revolución with the Castro brothers in the front row and the crowd shouting ‘Libertad! Libertad!’ as the Pope pronounced his homily. And I remember the words with which Fidel bid John Paul II goodbye at the airport before he set off back to Rome: ‘Thank you for everything you said, even for those words I may not have liked.’ He had this human elegance about him as Wojtyla smiled: that visit marked the beginning of long but real process of opening up”.

MIAMI ARCHBISHOP RECALLS CATHOLIC PERSECUTION IN CUBA, PRAYS FOR PEACE

MIAMI (CNS) — On the day the news of Fidel Castro’s death spread, Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami was one of the first Catholic Church officials to respond early Nov. 26. “Fidel Castro is dead,” he wrote in a statement. “The death of this figure should lead us to invoke the patroness of Cuba, the Virgin of Charity, calling for peace for Cuba and its people.”

Later that day at Ermita de la Caridad, a Miami shrine that honors Cuba’s patron Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre and one built, he said in his homily, “with the sacrifices of the (Cuban) exiles,” he focused on the suffering of Catholic Cuba and the news of Castro’s death. The 90-year-old former leader of Cuba reportedly died late at night Nov. 25.

“The Cuban people are a noble people, but also a people who suffer,” Archbishop Wenski said. “And now, on the eve of this first Sunday of Advent, to emphasize the words of Christ ‘at the hour you least expect, the Son of Man will come,’ we have learned that Fidel Castro has died.” He continued: “Each human being, each of us, will die. We will all be judged one day. Today, it is his (Fidel Castro’s) turn. God’s judgment is merciful, but it doesn’t cease to be just.”

Archbishop Wenski asked those gathered to invoke Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre and ask for her intercession. “She has accompanied the Cuban people for more than 400 years,” he said, including during the country’s battle for independence and she “suffered with the church when the Marxist obscurantism wounded and decimated (the church).” She has been there in good times and in times of turmoil, in the Cuban prisons and in the agricultural “forced labor camps” the Cuban government operated, he said.

Referencing recent moments in the history of the island when Catholics hid their faith fearing persecution by a government and a society that looked down on religion, he said the Virgin was present in the prayer cards people hid in their dressers, as church members were “forced to survive by publicly denying their devotion.” And Mary is there with those who, despite all the challenges they have faced, continue to pass on the gift of faith to their children and grandchildren on the island.

She remains on the island today, he said, and continues to lavish her motherly love “in prisons that still are not empty and in the midst of women who walk demanding freedom.”

Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre is present, Archbishop Wenski said, with those inside and outside Cuba, who “fight for respect for human dignity and to establish a future of freedom, justice and peace.”

POPE FRANCIS, ORTHODOX PATRIARCH KIRILL TO HOLD HISTORIC ENCOUNTER IN CUBA – TWO FRANCISCAN SAINTS AND CONFESSORS ARRIVE IN VATICAN

Before I bring you two very significant news stories, I want to remind you to tune in this weekend to “Vatican Insider” for Part II of my conversation with Msgr. Keith Newton, ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham.

POPE FRANCIS, ORTHODOX PATRIARCH KIRILL TO HOLD HISTORIC ENCOUNTER IN CUBA

(Vatican Radio)  It was announced on Friday that Pope Francis will hold a meeting with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia in Cuba on February 12th. It marks the first ever such meeting between a Roman Pontiff and the head of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Here is the joint press release of the Holy See and of the Patriarchate of Moscow:

The Holy See and the Patriarchate of Moscow are pleased to announce that, by the grace of God, His Holiness Pope Francis and His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia will meet on February 12 next. Their meeting will take place in Cuba, where the Pope will make a stop on his way to Mexico, and where the Patriarch will be on an official visit. It will include a personal conversation at Havana’s José Martí International Airport, and will conclude with the signing of a joint declaration.

This meeting of the Primates of the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church, after a long preparation, will be the first in history and will mark an important stage in relations between the two Churches. The Holy See and the Moscow Patriarchate hope that it will also be a sign of hope for all people of good will. They invite all Christians to pray fervently for God to bless this meeting, that it may bear good fruits.

PATRIARCH KIRILL

The communique was released in Italian, Russian, English, French and Spanish.

TWO FRANCISCAN SAINTS AND CONFESSORS ARRIVE IN VATICAN

(Vatican Radio) The relics of St. Pius of Pietralcina – Padre Pio, as he is popularly known around the world – and St. Leopold Mandic, made their way on Friday afternoon from the Church of San Salvatore in Lauro to St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.

The relics of the two great saints – both of whom were Capuchin Franciscan friars and priests who were renowned as confessors – have come to Rome by the desire of Pope Francis in connection with the Jubilee Year of Mercy, as part of efforts to renew, rekindle and strengthen interest in and love for the Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation.

PADRE PIO

Following a Mass in nearby San Salvatore, at which the principal celebrant was the Archbishop of Manfredonia – Vieste – San Giovanni Rotondo, Michele Castoro, the saints’ relics were carried in solemn procession through the streets of Rome, across the Tiber River and into St. Peter’s, where they were received by the Cardinal-Archpriest, Angelo Comastri, who, after a moment of prayer, accompanied them into the Basilica and saw them placed in the central nave before the Altar of the Confession for the faithful to venerate.

The relics will remain in St. Peter’s for veneration until the morning of February 11 when, after a Holy Mass of thanksgiving at 7:30 am at the Altar of the Chair, they will be returned to their places of repose.

 

GUESS WHO’S COMING TO THE WHITE HOUSE?

I spent two fascinating hours on Italian television this morning as part of a panel about the papal trip on TV2000, the network of the Italian Episcopal Conference. At 9 am, I wondered how the time would go by, even with videos from Pope Francis’ time in Cuba and interesting guests, and at 11, I wondered how the time had flown by so fast! A fascinating experience, especially given that I had to express myself in Italian, my “second” language! Helps me understand why Pope Francis is more comfortable in public with Italian or Spanish than with English.

As I write, Pope Francis is winging his way north, due to arrive in Washington D.C. at 4 pm local time (10 pm in Rome) perhaps even a bit earlier as his plane left Santiago de Cuba about 15 or so minutes early.

POPE LEAVES CUBA

Below are two links to stories with info that may interest you; one is about 9 papal moments you may have missed in Cuba and the second is about what lawmakers will be allowed to do – or discouraged from doing – when the Pope speaks to Congress Thursday. Following those links is a story making headlines around the world: it concerns the list of guests President Obama has invited to the White House for the official welcome for Pope Francis tomorrow.

Here’s a link to an interesting story by CNA/EWTN news on the ground in Cuba – a story you may have missed about the papal visit to Cuba: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com//news/nine-things-you-missed-from-pope-francis-time-in-havana-24488/

And here’s a piece from Roll Call that talks about what members of Congress must do and must not do, can do and cannot do when Pope Francis goes to the U.S. Capitol on September 24 to address a joint session of Congress – a first in the history of America. Let’s see if people follow the rulebook! Roll Call, owned by the Economist group, is a non partisan newspaper published in Washington from Monday to Friday when the U.S. Congress is in session. http://www3.blogs.rollcall.com/hawkings/members-will-be-blocked-two-ways-from-touching-pope-francis/?MKD

GUESS WHO’S COMING TO THE WHITE HOUSE?

What many consider to be the most unfortunate story – or as one person put it, “a totally classless act by Obama” – to come out of D.C. vis-à-vis the papal visit concerns the guest list for the official reception for Pope Francis at the White House tomorrow. It has made a lot of headlines here and is all over the place in the U.S. media, including radio and television commentators as well as online news services, blogs editorial pages, etc.

Two sample headlines in Italy: Obama’s Insult – Left breathless by the welcoming ceremony at the White House.

One U.S. news report speaks of the Vatican irritation at the guest list without naming or hinting at a source. The report also says, “According to a senior Vatican official, the Holy See has noted its concerns that any photos of the Pope with these controversial guests could be interpreted as an endorsement of their activities.”

The Guardian wrote: “A Vatican official has said the White House was “smart enough” to know it ought not to try to embarrass Pope Francis at a planned welcome reception for the pontiff next week that will include several guests – including a transgender woman and gay activists – whose presence highlights some of the church’s exclusionary policies. The Vatican official – who asked not to be identified – said that officials in Rome were not “overly concerned” that the White House guest list for the pope’s welcome party in Washington included guests that could be considered controversial for the church. But the person added that it would be the White House, not the Holy See, that would find it embarrassing if the welcome party, which will partly be held on the South Lawn and will include 15,000 guests, looked like a political stunt.”

Here, in part, is an editorial board piece from the Washington Post, entitled “The White House is more afraid of offending China’s president than the Pope”:

“THE VATICAN has raised objections to a few of the guests invited to the White House arrival ceremony next week for Pope Francis. The Wall Street Journal reported that the guests include transgender activists, the first openly gay Episcopal bishop and a nun who criticizes church policies on abortion and euthanasia. The Vatican worries that photos taken with the pope might be used to suggest his endorsement of activities he in fact disapproves of.

“White House spokesman Josh Earnest, in his briefing Thursday, wouldn’t comment on individual invitees but noted that a very large crowd will assemble for the Wednesday event. “[T]hat’s why I would warn you against drawing a lot of conclusions about one or two or maybe even three people who may be on the guest list, because there will be 15,000 other people there too.”

“That’s a fair point. … No doubt there’s often a fine balance between hospitality and principle when foreign visitors come to town. The administration doesn’t want to give offense, but it also doesn’t want to give in to what it may see as prejudices that it doesn’t share.

“What struck us as we read about this small controversy is the contrast between the administration’s apparent decision to risk a bit of rudeness in the case of the pope and its overwhelming deference to foreign dictators when similar issues arise. When Secretary of State John F. Kerry traveled to Havana to reopen the U.S. Embassy recently, he painstakingly excluded from the guest list any democrat, dissident or member of civil society who might offend the Castro brothers.

“And when Chinese President Xi Jinping comes to the White House next week, shortly after the pope leaves town, it’s a safe bet that he won’t have to risk being photographed with anyone of whom he disapproves. Chen Guangcheng, the courageous blind lawyer, for example, lives nearby in exile, but he probably won’t be at the state dinner. Neither will Falun Gong activists, democracy advocates or anyone else who might, well, give offense.

Here, in part, is what Joan Frawley Desmond wrote for the National Catholic Register’s online edition:

“Yesterday, the issue of embarrassing the pope at his own welcome ceremony came up during a press conference with the White House press secretary, Josh Earnest, who said he was unaware of the names of the invitees.

“Earnest said the White House had reached out to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Archdiocese of Washington, but had also directed many other groups to invite guests to the welcome ceremony. Today, a story in Crux echoed this assertion.

“This morning, the USCCB confirmed, in an email response to my query, that additional attendees will include: Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., the USCCB president, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, and “local ordinaries around the region and the US Cardinals.”

“Still, it would have been much more gracious for the leader of the free world to welcome the Pope without provoking a rebuke from the Vatican. Obama has every reason to cement a relatively new partnership, not risk a breach.

“As Obama pushes for an international consensus to battle global warming ahead of the United Nations conference on climate change this fall, White House aides cite the power of the pope’s passionate entreaties to Christians worldwide about caring for the creation,” the Los Angeles Times reported on Sept 17.

 

VATICAN SPOKESMAN ON PAPAL VISITS WITH CASTRO BROTHERS – DAY THREE IN CUBA: HOLQUIN AND SANTIAGO DE CUBA – HOLY SEE FLAG TO FLY AT U.N. WHEN POPE FRANCIS ARRIVES –

Just a brief note to start this column today to thank so many of you who, through Facebook messages and emails, have said you are looking forward to my participation in the coverage of the papal visit to the U.S. and who have wished me safe travels. I’ve even received invitations to speak post-papal trip about what it is like to cover the visit of a Pope. However, I will not be on this trip. I know my colleagues will be doing very able jobs and that the coverage will be special.

Maybe I’ll try to be at the airport next Monday – or the Santa Marta residence – when Pope Francis returns and I can officially welcome him back to Rome!

I am sure you all have been following Pope Francis’s first days and events in Cuba and that you’ll be even more riveted to the television – or perhaps the radio or some form of social media – when the Holy Father arrives Washington, D.C. tomorrow.

There are countless ways, with EWTN alone, to follow the Pope’s every move, every word, every embrace of a little child or disabled person, every homily or important speech as, in coming days, he addresses a joint session of the U.S. Congress and speaks at the U.N. in New York. Thus, I’ll not be doing a summary every day of the papal visit as you will have already seen and heard all he important news stories, but I do have a few interesting items today for this column.

I’ve spent part of this afternoon, and will spend this evening, watching the coverage of Pope Francis’ visit to Holquin and Santiago de Cuba. I have been asked by TV2000, the network of the Italian bishops’ conference, to appear for two hours tomorrow on their morning show that will look at the Pope’s day in Cuba today and his prospects for the U.S. TV2000 wants to learn more about EWTN and our worldwide coverage, and to hear about my years at the Vatican, especially the period regarding St. John Paul’s 1998 trip to Cuba, the first ever by a Pope. I have some interesting background material for that!

Now, here’s today’s stories from news.va

VATICAN SPOKESMAN ON PAPAL VISITS WITH CASTRO BROTHERS

(Vatican Radio) Perhaps the event that created most media interest during Pope Francis’s first full day in Cuba was his meeting with revolutionary leader Fidel Castro.

During a private encounter at the 89-year-old retired President’s home, the Pope and Castro discussed religion and world affairs.

The meeting took place just hours after the Pope at Mass urged Cubans to serve one another and not ideology. His message reaches out as their Communist-ruled country enters a new era of closer ties with the United States.

During the afternoon Pope Francis also went to the Palace of the Revolution, where he held private talks for about an hour with President Raul Castro, Fidel’s 84-year-old younger brother.

At the conclusion of the busy day packed with events of both pastoral and a political nature, Vatican Radio’s Sean Patrick Lovett spoke to Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Head of the Vatican Press Office about the meetings between the Pope and the Castro brothers.

Sean Patrick Lovett recalls the fact that in 1988, when Mario Bergoglio was not yet even Archbishop of Buenos Aires “he wrote a little book called ‘Dialogues between John Paul II and Fidel Castro’. One of his conclusions in that book, after comparing the discourses of the two men, was that they had failed to listen to one another: there was not sufficient dialogue in their encounters” he says.

And pointing to the fact that 17 years have passed since then, Sean Lovett asks Fr Lombardi whether he thinks there is a “new kind of listening happening between the Pope and Cuba?”

Lombardi says he thinks that Cuba understands very well that the Catholic Church and the Popes are the world’s moral authorities today, and that they take Cuba, its history and its people very seriously. He says Cubans know that “they need a dialogue with the Popes”. Lombardi points out that the presence of 3 Popes in 17 years on the island and the help they have proffered in finding the way towards more openness is something really exceptional.

He says that history also shows how aware the Church has been regarding the importance of this land for the American continent. “I think that the experience of important diplomats like that of Cardinal Parolin who knows very well the region – he was nuncio in Venezuela – allows the Church to understand well the significance of Cuba for the Latin American continent.”

Lombardi also points out that if Cuba finds the way to become more open, it could become a bridge between continents and peoples. This, he says, will also help reconciliation between other peoples and encourage reconciliation in nations like Venezuela, Colombia and so on. “This is really important for this part of the world” he says.

He says the United States also understands very well the importance of a relationship with Cuba and points out that the process that is going on is a clear sign of this.

“Cuba is a very important point of encounter, as the Pope said yesterday, between North and South, between East and West. … I think the Castro brothers have understood very well that the Popes are great moral and religious authorities, that they are pastors that can give a contribution to the nation of invaluable importance” he says.

DAY THREE IN CUBA: HOLQUIN AND SANTIAGO DE CUBA

(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis on Monday traveled from the Cuban capital, Havana, to visit Holguin and Santiago de Cuba on the eastern tip of the Caribbean island nation.

Both cities are closely linked to the famous statue of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, formally declared patroness of the Cuban people by Pope Benedict XV a century ago.

Philippa Hitchen reports on this second stage of the Pope’s pastoral visit to Cuba:

The city of Holguin is famed as the birthplace of Cuba’s revolutionary leader Fidel Castro and his brother Raul, who between them have ruled the country since 1959. It’s also known for its five-metre high cross on the hillside that looks out over the city –and offers a unique view of he entire island of Cuba – where, at 3:34 pm local time, Pope Francis will stop to pray. He has already celebrated Mass in Holquin’s main square.

It was not far from the city of Holguin that Christopher Columbus first landed in Cuba in 1492 and it was in the bay there that three local fishermen first saw Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, floating on the water in 1612. The small wooden statue of Our Lady, wearing a gold mantle and holding the Infant Jesus in her left arm, is now housed in the shrine dedicated to her in the nearby city of Santiago de Cuba where the Pope will conclude his journey to the island nation.

Over the centuries many miracles have been attributed to Our Lady who’s seen as a powerful symbol of liberation during the struggle for independence from the Spanish and for the slaves, brought in to work the copper mines in the early 16th century. Descendants of those African slaves make up over 30 percent of Cuba’s population, yet they remain amongst the poorest inhabitants of the country.

Both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI came to pray at the shrine during their trips to Cuba and another famous visitor, author Ernest Hemingway, left his Nobel medal for Literature there as a sign of gratitude for the warm welcome he received from the people of Cuba.

Pope Francis will join the crowds of other pilgrims down the centuries who’ve come to pray before the statue of La Mambisa, as she’s popularly known. He’ll celebrate Mass there on Tuesday and rededicate the nation to her, before travelling on to Washington D.C. with the hopes of encouraging the ongoing ‘miracle’ of reconciliation between Cuba and the United States.

HOLY SEE FLAG TO FLY AT U.N. WHEN POPE FRANCIS ARRIVES

(Vatican Radio) A communiqué released today by the United Nations says the Holy See flag will fly at the UN building in New York when Pope Francis arrives there on Friday.

VATICAN FLAG

It says that after consultations with the Holy See, the United Nations will raise the flag of the Holy See for the first time on the morning of September 25, so that it will be flying when Pope Francis arrives at the UN Headquarters.

The Holy See and the United Nations Secretariat have agreed that the flag will be raised with no ceremony. UN personnel will raise it at the same time they will raise the other flags that day.

The flag of the Holy See has two vertical bands, one gold and one white. The white side features an image of two traversed keys, one gold and one silver, bound together by a red cord, and topped by a triple-crown or tiara crowned by a cross. The keys (Mt 16:19) and tiara are both traditional symbols of the papacy. It has been the official flag of the Holy See since 1929.

 

POPE FRANCIS’ DAY IN A NUTSHELL – THREE POPES AND AN ARCHBISHOP

Pope Francis spent a very busy morning, meeting with and speaking to a number of groups, as you’ll see in a minute with the very brief summaries I will post. When I worked at the Vatican and many offices were preparing in some way, for weeks and months, for a papal trip, it always seemed to me that, as departure day approached, Popes tried to squeeze in a huge number of appointments, audiences meetings an speeches, often more activity than on a normal day.

Perhaps we all do similar things when we prepare for a trip or vacation – put some order into the house, make sure laundry is done, have mail held while we are away, make phone calls and answer emails we may have put on the back burner – all this (occasionally frantic) activity so that we can go away and think only of having a good time, not about the things we still have on our to-do list.

And now, some highlights of the Pope’s day:

POPE FRANCIS’ DAY IN A NUTSHELL

POPE FRANCIS THURSDAY, SPEAKING TO PARTICIPANTS OF A MEETING ON THE IRAQI-SYRIAN HUMANITARIAN CRISIS, called for a peaceful solution to the conflicts in those countries. He said, “the international community seems unable to find adequate solutions while the arms dealers continue to achieve their interests.” The meeting, promoted by the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum” is attended by Catholic charities that are active in the Middle East and by the bishops of the region. Francis said the consequences of the conflicts in Iraq and Syria are “one of the most overwhelming human tragedies of recent decades. Millions of people are in distressing state of urgent need.” Highlighting “this ocean of pain,” he spoke of the particularly cruel predicament of Christians in the war-torn nations “where many brothers and sisters are oppressed because of their faith, driven from their land, kept in prison or even killed”. Pointing out that today’s media broadcasts live the images and stories pertaining to the catastrophe, Francis said: “No one can pretend not to know! Everyone is aware that this war weighs in an increasingly unbearable way on the shoulders of the poor. We need to find a solution, which is never a violent one, because violence only creates new wounds.”

THE HOLY FATHER SENT A MESSAGE TO PARTICIPANTS AT AN  INTERNATIONAL SYMPOSIUM ON THE PASTORAL CARE OF STREET PEOPLE in which he said abandoned children and exploited sex workers are a “shameful reality in our societies.”The five-day meeting, organized by the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, has focused especially on the plight of women and children living on the streets. Pope Francis praised the commitment of the many different organizations that care for street children and for girls or women who are exploited by criminal gangs, or even by their own family members. He said “every child abandoned or forced to live on the streets, at the mercy of criminal organizations, is a cry rising up to God, who created man and woman in his own image.  It is an indictment of a social system which we have criticized for decades, but which we find hard to change in conformity with criteria of justice.” He said, “the often sad realities which you encounter are the result of indifference, poverty, family and social violence, and human trafficking.  They involve the pain of marital separations and the birth of children out of wedlock, frequently doomed to a life of ‘vagrancy’.  Street children and street women are not numbers, or ‘packets’ to be traded; they are human beings, each with his or her own name and face, each with a God-given identity.”

POPE FRANCIS ALSO ADDRESSED A GROUP OF YOUNG PEOPLE IN CONSECRATED LIFE ON THURSDAY MORNING. The special audience was the highlight of the International Congress for Young People in Consecrated Life taking place in Rome this week in the context of the ongoing Year of Consecrated Life, which will close on the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord (Feb. 2nd), 2016. Putting his prepared remarks aside, the Holy Father answered a series of three questions from the participants. The questions covered areas ranging from the Holy Father’s own first calling to religious life, to the mission of consecrated young people in the Church today, to the advice the Holy Father might have for young people who have completed their formation and lived some time in religion and are anxious not to lose the impetus of their original vocation.. He asked the young people to reflect on the “dangers” of a life that becomes “comfortable,” and renewed his repeated warning against the danger of gossip in religious life. “Never!” he said, “Never: gossip is the plague of community life.” In a particularly candid moment of the particularly frank and unguarded exchange, Pope Francis returned to the first question, about his memory of his first conscious experience of a vocation to religious life. “Memory,” he said. “You asked me to share my memory – how it was – that first call on September 21st, 1953 – but I don’t know how it was: I know that, by chance, I walked into church, I saw a confessional, and I came out different.” (Sources for above: news.va)

ALSO THURSDAY, THE HOLY FATHER RECEIVED THE PRIME MINISTER OF THE GRAND DUCHY OF LUXEMBOURG, His Excellency Mr. Xavier Bettel who also met with Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin and Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, secretary for Relations with States. The Vatican statement said: “the cordial discussions offered the opportunity to reaffirm the wish to consolidate the existing good relations between the Holy See and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and to consider issues of common interest, with special attention to the relationship between Church and State, underlining the relevance of religious freedom and spiritual values for social cohesion. Within the context of Luxembourg’s term of presidency of the European Union, attention then turned to various matters of a European and international nature, with particular reference to current conflicts, the issue of migration and the need to provide assistance to refugees and displaced persons, as well as the situation of persecuted religious minorities.”

THREE POPES AND AN ARCHBISHOP

Just days before Pope Francis’ plane lands in Havana, Cuba, making him the third Pope to visit that Caribbean nation, Cardinal Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino, archbishop of Havana penned a piece for L’Osservatore Romano in which he describes the background of this papal trip, as well as his encounters with Francis’ two predecessors, St. John Paul and Benedict XVI. In fact, Cardinal Ortega y Alamino notes the special place he holds in papal travels: “I have the good fortune of being the only Archbishop to receive three Popes in the same See.”

Following is Cardinal Ortega y Alamino’s story:

During the Extraordinary Consistory last February, after I greeted the Pope Francis before the start of the first session, he turned to me and said: “I have an idea: to come to Cuba”. I shared with him my enthusiasm at the idea and suggested he add it on to his visit to Latin America in July. The Holy Father looked a bit perplexed, as Cuba was out of the way and the extended journey would already span three countries. But he said: “We shall see”.

In the afternoon session of the second day, Pope Francis motioned for me to come up to his table and he said, smiling: “I have decided to come to Cuba and I’ve already told Msgr. Angelo Becciu. A visit to Cuba will be added onto my journey to the United States in September”. I answered him: “Your Holiness, I am returning to Cuba with tremendous joy!”, and I thanked him. I then heard him say something that touched me even more deeply: “It’s the least I can do for you all”.

I have the good fortune of being the only Archbishop to receive three Popes in the same See. During that final afternoon of the Consistory, many recollections of these three popes flew through my mind in such rapid succession that I was barely able to follow the speeches of my brother Cardinals.

I recalled with deeply filial affection St. John Paul II’s visit to Cuba — this pope had risen on the horizon of my vocational discernment like a bright beacon, he had led me to become, first, a young Bishop of Pinar del Río (1978) and, three years later, to be the Archbishop of Havana (1981). Then, at the Consistory of 1994, it was he who created me cardinal. What closeness and fatherly affection I always sensed, what steadfast support at every moment, even when, at the end of his precious life, all his strength seemed to have left him!

For economic and social reasons, at the start of the 90s, Pope John Paul II was unable to accept the Cuban Bishops’ invitation to visit our country, an invitation he very much wanted to accept due to his interest in the situation of our Church, which had lived through situations similar to his own Poland.

St. John Paul and (then) Archbishop Ortega y Alamino (news.va)

Pope Francis spent a very busy morning, meeting with and speaking to a number of groups, as you’ll see in a minute with the very brief summaries I will post. When I worked at the Vatican and many offices were preparing in some way, for weeks and months, for a papal trip, it always seemed to me that, as departure day approached, Popes tried to squeeze in a huge number of appointments, audiences meetings an speeches, often more activity than on a normal day.

Perhaps we all do similar things when we prepare for a trip or vacation – put some order into the house, make sure laundry is done, have mail held while we are away, make phone calls and answer emails we may have put on the back burner – all this (occasionally frantic) activity so that we can go away and think only of having a good time, not about the things we still have on our to-do list.

And now, some highlights of the Pope’s day:

POPE FRANCIS’ DAY IN A NUTSHELL

POPE FRANCIS THURSDAY, SPEAKING TO PARTICIPANTS OF A MEETING ON THE IRAQI-SYRIAN HUMANITARIAN CRISIS, called for a peaceful solution to the conflicts in those countries. He said, “the international community seems unable to find adequate solutions while the arms dealers continue to achieve their interests.” The meeting, promoted by the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum” is attended by Catholic charities that are active in the Middle East and by the bishops of the region. Francis said the consequences of the conflicts in Iraq and Syria are “one of the most overwhelming human tragedies of recent decades. Millions of people are in distressing state of urgent need.” Highlighting “this ocean of pain,” he spoke of the particularly cruel predicament of Christians in the war-torn nations “where many brothers and sisters are oppressed because of their faith, driven from their land, kept in prison or even killed”. Pointing out that today’s media broadcasts live the images and stories pertaining to the catastrophe, Francis said: “No one can pretend not to know! Everyone is aware that this war weighs in an increasingly unbearable way on the shoulders of the poor. We need to find a solution, which is never a violent one, because violence only creates new wounds.”

THE HOLY FATHER SENT A MESSAGE TO PARTICIPANTS AT AN  INTERNATIONAL SYMPOSIUM ON THE PASTORAL CARE OF STREET PEOPLE in which he said abandoned children and exploited sex workers are a “shameful reality in our societies.”The five-day meeting, organized by the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, has focused especially on the plight of women and children living on the streets. Pope Francis praised the commitment of the many different organizations that care for street children and for girls or women who are exploited by criminal gangs, or even by their own family members. He said “every child abandoned or forced to live on the streets, at the mercy of criminal organizations, is a cry rising up to God, who created man and woman in his own image.  It is an indictment of a social system which we have criticized for decades, but which we find hard to change in conformity with criteria of justice.” He said, “the often sad realities which you encounter are the result of indifference, poverty, family and social violence, and human trafficking.  They involve the pain of marital separations and the birth of children out of wedlock, frequently doomed to a life of ‘vagrancy’.  Street children and street women are not numbers, or ‘packets’ to be traded; they are human beings, each with his or her own name and face, each with a God-given identity.”

POPE FRANCIS ALSO ADDRESSED A GROUP OF YOUNG PEOPLE IN CONSECRATED LIFE ON THURSDAY MORNING. The special audience was the highlight of the International Congress for Young People in Consecrated Life taking place in Rome this week in the context of the ongoing Year of Consecrated Life, which will close on the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord (Feb. 2nd), 2016. Putting his prepared remarks aside, the Holy Father answered a series of three questions from the participants. The questions covered areas ranging from the Holy Father’s own first calling to religious life, to the mission of consecrated young people in the Church today, to the advice the Holy Father might have for young people who have completed their formation and lived some time in religion and are anxious not to lose the impetus of their original vocation.. He asked the young people to reflect on the “dangers” of a life that becomes “comfortable,” and renewed his repeated warning against the danger of gossip in religious life. “Never!” he said, “Never: gossip is the plague of community life.” In a particularly candid moment of the particularly frank and unguarded exchange, Pope Francis returned to the first question, about his memory of his first conscious experience of a vocation to religious life. “Memory,” he said. “You asked me to share my memory – how it was – that first call on September 21st, 1953 – but I don’t know how it was: I know that, by chance, I walked into church, I saw a confessional, and I came out different.” (Sources for above: news.va)

ALSO THURSDAY, THE HOLY FATHER RECEIVED THE PRIME MINISTER OF THE GRAND DUCHY OF LUXEMBOURG, His Excellency Mr. Xavier Bettel who also met with Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin and Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, secretary for Relations with States. The Vatican statement said: “the cordial discussions offered the opportunity to reaffirm the wish to consolidate the existing good relations between the Holy See and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and to consider issues of common interest, with special attention to the relationship between Church and State, underlining the relevance of religious freedom and spiritual values for social cohesion. Within the context of Luxembourg’s term of presidency of the European Union, attention then turned to various matters of a European and international nature, with particular reference to current conflicts, the issue of migration and the need to provide assistance to refugees and displaced persons, as well as the situation of persecuted religious minorities.”

THREE POPES AND AN ARCHBISHOP

Just days before Pope Francis’ plane lands in Havana, Cuba, making him the third Pope to visit that Caribbean nation, Cardinal Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino, archbishop of Havana penned a piece for L’Osservatore Romano in which he describes the background of this papal trip, as well as his encounters with Francis’ two predecessors, St. John Paul and Benedict XVI.

In fact, Cardinal Ortega y Alamino notes the special place he holds in papal travels: “I have the good fortune of being the only Archbishop to receive three Popes in the same See.”

Following is Cardinal Ortega y Alamino’s story:

During the Extraordinary Consistory last February, after I greeted the Pope Francis before the start of the first session, he turned to me and said: “I have an idea: to come to Cuba”. I shared with him my enthusiasm at the idea and suggested he add it on to his visit to Latin America in July. The Holy Father looked a bit perplexed, as Cuba was out of the way and the extended journey would already span three countries. But he said: “We shall see”.

In the afternoon session of the second day, Pope Francis motioned for me to come up to his table and he said, smiling: “I have decided to come to Cuba and I’ve already told Msgr. Angelo Becciu. A visit to Cuba will be added onto my journey to the United States in September”. I answered him: “Your Holiness, I am returning to Cuba with tremendous joy!”, and I thanked him. I then heard him say something that touched me even more deeply: “It’s the least I can do for you all”.

I have the good fortune of being the only Archbishop to receive three Popes in the same See. During that final afternoon of the Consistory, many recollections of these three popes flew through my mind in such rapid succession that I was barely able to follow the speeches of my brother Cardinals.

I recalled with deeply filial affection St. John Paul II’s visit to Cuba — this pope had risen on the horizon of my vocational discernment like a bright beacon, he had led me to become, first, a young Bishop of Pinar del Río (1978) and, three years later, to be the Archbishop of Havana (1981). Then, at the Consistory of 1994, it was he who created me cardinal. What closeness and fatherly affection I always sensed, what steadfast support at every moment, even when, at the end of his precious life, all his strength seemed to have left him!

For economic and social reasons, at the start of the 90s, Pope John Paul II was unable to accept the Cuban Bishops’ invitation to visit our country, an invitation he very much wanted to accept due to his interest in the situation of our Church, which had lived through situations similar to his own Poland.

St. John Paul and Cardinal Ortega y Alamino (news.va)

ABP HAVANA AND JOHN PAUL

Several years passed before our invitation was accepted by the Pope. In 1998, nearing the close of the millennium, weakened in the few years that had passed since we invited him, Pope John Paul II was finally able to embark on his emotional visit to Cuba. It would remain a ray of sunshine for the Church in our country and a milestone in her history and in that of the Cuban people as a whole. In his opening address to Cuba and the world, he made reference to our country’s isolation from the American continent and from the world, calling for this isolation to be broken — “May Cuba, with all its magnificent potential, open itself up to the world, and may the world open itself up to Cuba”. This call resounded around the world; it can still be heard today and it grows stronger with every event that seems to confirm the hope and prayer of that Holy Shepherd. An example was last 17 December, when the presidents of Cuba and the United States announced simultaneously the reinstatement of diplomatic relations between the two countries with the opening of embassies in their respective capitals.

And so began a new phase in diplomacy between two nations that have been separated for more than 50 years. During that historic announcement the two presidents thanked Pope Francis for his part in the process that led to this reconciliation and paved the way for coexistence and dialogue. Behind this agreement stands Pope Francis’ discrete but effective and clear conviction: that the creation and fostering of dialogue is indispensable in the resolution of tension and conflict. It’s not the first time he has stood by that conviction in his pontificate, but perhaps the continuously tense situation between Cuba and the US made it all the more important for the Holy Father’s silent intervention.

The path of dialogue between religions, of the Church’s dialogue with other Christian confessions and with Judaism, was significantly strengthened by Pope John XXIII and his convocation of the Second Vatican Council, which brought the Church, in a renewed way, into the concrete history of humanity in the 20th century. This call to dialogue was accepted by Pope Paul vi, who admirably promoted it throughout his pontificate. The best expression of that is contained in a few decisive words from Pope Montini: “Dialogue is the new name of love”. With these words the Pope illustrated how human beings must relate and the style that must prevail in the Church, among nations, among different groups in society and between Christians and the the world.

The pontificate of St John Paul II was enveloped in this journey of dialogue. He lived through a difficult dialogue as bishop in his native Poland, but he nevertheless promoted it, even when it seemed barren and impossible. His direction and his teachings were faithful to that fundamental spirit of Vatican II, in which he himself had participated.

Seeing these things close up, I found in Pope Benedict XVI a clear continuity with the Church’s line of interaction with the modern world, in her structures, in her political-social function and in the realm of ideas and conceptions that underlie current thought. In the latter context, Pope Benedict expressed himself magisterially: in his brilliant contribution to the style in which the Church dialogues, in his literary and personal contact with modernity and in the formulation of his thought regarding dialogue in interreligious, social and political spheres. All these constitute an inestimable treasure in the understanding of the fundamental role of dialogue in the life of the Church and of all Christians.

In June 2012, the current Pope emeritus visited Cuba as a pilgrim during our jubilee — we were celebrating the 400th anniversary of the rediscovery of the statue of Our Lady of Charity, Patroness of Cuba, which had been lost at sea. In an unforgettable conversation, the Pope expressed his happiness about the trip, for which we, the Cuban bishops, were so grateful. He warmly recalled the official welcome he had received, and the friendly gestures towards him. It was in that context that he spoke of dialogue as the rightful path of the Church. On various occasions I have cited these words from Pope Benedict, who struck me by the conviction with which he spoke them. He said: “Dialogue is the only path for the Church…. The Church is not in the world to change governments, but to penetrate the hearts of men and women with the Gospel”.

Pope Benedict XVI said this to me just before stepping down from the See of Peter. When, some months later, we Cardinals gathered together for the conclave that would quickly elect Cardinal Bergoglio as Supreme Pontiff, I had the opportunity to speak with the future Pope about Latin America and Cuba. At a certain moment in the conversation, while alluding to dialogue and its importance in the current climate of grand transformation in Latin America, I remembered my last conversation with Pope Benedict. He had said to me that dialogue was the only path for the Church in her relationship with political structures. Applying his words to the context at hand, I repeated them to the future Pope Francis, who raising his arms up in the air, exclaimed: “This should be written on a plaque and placed at the entrance of every city in the world”, and he repeated it, word for word: “The Church is not in the world to change governments, but to penetrate the hearts of men and women with the Gospel”. He then added: “Every social and political climate should be accompanied in a climate of dialogue”.

Shortly after Cardinal Bergoglio was elected to the Chair of Peter, we were filled with joy over having a Latin American Pope. He was someone close to us, who had handed to the Episcopate of Latin America in Aparecida, Brazil, the conviction that the Church is Christ’s mission for our people, that we all, bishops, priests, and lay people, should be conscious of our being missionaries. Seeing that the new Pope would surely communicate that evangelical zeal, I could not but ponder what Pope Benedict had said about the Church’s mission: “The Church is in the world to penetrate the hearts of men and women with the Gospel”. This is what the new Pope had repeated to me with such profound conviction, and which fervently inspires his pontificate.

This is Pope Francis, who will soon be with us in Cuba: a missionary pope who comes to our little country, as he did to Sarajevo, Sri Lanka or Albania; who comes to a country which has overcome isolation and distance, thanks also to the dialogue that the Church and the Popes of 20th century fostered. And it was Pope Francis who spurred and supported dialogue between the people and the governments of Cuba and the US. He comes among us to reaffirm the missionary condition of the Church and her preference for the little ones, the poor. He comes as a missionary of mercy. No other motto could better describe him in this world of ours laden with hardship, loneliness, every form of poverty, faded hopes and void of God, where love is seen as a game in which sad losers and false victors play for themselves and never manage to find true Love. And this has thrown the family, whose role is irreplaceable in the formation of new generations, into crisis, which is why it is at the centre of the Holy Father’s pastoral concern.

There is an essential link between the family and the restlessness and longing of the young people, whom Pope Francis will meet in Havana on Sunday evening. That meeting will, thus, be a very special moment during his visit to our country.

The God who is Love will be presented in Cuba by Pope Francis — to young people, to families, to priests, to sisters and to everyone: the merciful God who understands and forgives.

In the “José Martí” Plaza de la Revolución, before the altar where Pope Francis will preside at the Eucharistic Celebration, there will be a giant display of the Merciful Christ spanning ten floors of the National Library. At this moment, our Cuban people, like all people of the earth, need to experience mercy, not pity or mere condescension, but understanding of the human heart in all its restlessness and limitations. We will feel the encouragement of one who reaches out to us to lift our soul with simplicity and humility, just as Pope Francis will know how to do in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, as he passes through the streets of Havana, and especially during his meeting with young people.

How much can really be done in such a short period of time, just a glimpse of the Pope passing by in the distance? Sometimes a glance, a gesture, a smile is all it takes to know that God comes among us and that, through his Vicar on earth, Christ is visiting his people.

Thus we welcomed St John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and thus we wait for Pope Francis. The people have not always been the same: some have gone to God the Father, many have emigrated. Emigration has left its mark on every family in Cuba; it is a perennial temptation for our youth. The emigration of young people and the low birth rate means that the population of Cuba is rapidly declining and aging, and this worries us all; but we also have other worries at the moment.

Facing the new path that appears to be opening now before the Cuban people, with all its risks and its benefits, our people, believers for the most part, must turn their gaze to God and place their future in the hands of merciful Jesus. The Holy Father will invite them to do just that. Therein lies our hope. Pope Francis will come to spread hope among us. It is no more than trusting in the action of a merciful God who will help us in the future to overcome these risks and to discover, also with His help, that the benefits can outweigh the risks on this new path opening before us, if we are capable of making room in our lives for God.

This must free our families and our young people from the paralyzing skepticism, that is alien to the Christian faith and in which God is never present. The Pope comes to tell us something new in this new moment of our history. This is surely the presentiment of the people of Cuba as they wait for Pope Francis.

I am certain that those who welcome him with an attitude of faith, as one who comes in the name of the Lord, will not be disappointed. It’s true that the people of Cuba want progress and prosperity to the fair benefit of all, but not only that; on the spiritual level our people long for stable love and endurance in the family, for peace in the life of the family and the nation. In short, they long to enjoy a life of reconciliation and happiness. This is not a hopeless yearning, so long as in our hearts we do not forget that God is the giver of every good thing and that in Him nothing is impossible.

Pope Francis comes precisely for this reason, that we do not forget this, that we do not forget God, and he will be welcomed by our people with devotion and love. His presence in Cuba will leave an indelible mark, of this I am certain.

– by Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino, Cardinal Archbishop of Havana

 

PAPAL MESSAGE FOR 24th WORLD DAY OF THE SICK – U.S. AMBASSADOR SAYS POPE FRANCIS WILL “TOUCH ON THE CORE VALUES THAT AMERICA HOLDS UP” – VATICAN STATS ON THE CHURCH IN CUBA AND IN THE U.S.

Pope Francis’ latest tweet: God loves the lowly. When we live humbly, he takes our small efforts and creates great things.

The Vatican announced today that the Holy Father has appointed Bishop James Vann Johnston of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, U.S. as bishop of Kansas City-Saint Joseph. He succeeds Bishop Robert Finn who resigned in April, having been found guilty several years earlier of failure to report sexual abuse cases.

PAPAL MESSAGE FOR 24th WORLD DAY OF THE SICK

The Vatican today released Pope Francis’ Message for the 24th World Day of the Sick, celebrated annually on the February 11th feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. The international celebration will take place in 2016 in the Holy Land. The theme of the papal Message is “Entrusting Oneself to the Merciful Jesus like Mary.”

Pope Francis starts by noting that, “The 24th World Day of the Sick offers me an opportunity to draw particularly close to you, dear friends who are ill, and to those who care for you. This year, since the Day of the Sick will be solemnly celebrated in the Holy Land, I wish to propose a meditation on the Gospel account of the wedding feast of Cana, where Jesus performed his first miracle through the intervention of his Mother. The theme chosen – Entrusting oneself to the merciful Jesus like Mary: ‘Do whatever he tells you’ is quite fitting in light of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy.”

He writes that, “The main Eucharistic celebration of the Day will take place on 11 February 2016, the liturgical memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes, in Nazareth itself, where ‘the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us’. In Nazareth, Jesus began his salvific mission, applying to himself the words of the Prophet Isaiah, as we are told by the Evangelist Luke: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord’.”

The Holy Father underscores that, “illness, above all grave illness, always places human existence in crisis and brings with it questions that dig deep. Our first response may at times be one of rebellion: why has this happened to me? We can feel desperate, thinking that all is lost, that things no longer have meaning.”

Yet, he urges us to have faith: “In these situations, faith in God is on the one hand tested, yet at the same time can reveal all of its positive resources. Not because faith makes illness, pain, or the questions which they raise, disappear, but because it offers a key by which we can discover the deepest meaning of what we are experiencing; a key that helps us to see how illness can be the way to draw nearer to Jesus who walks at our side, weighed down by the Cross. And this key is given to us by Mary, our Mother, who has known this way at first hand.”

In a beautiful image, the Holy Father says, “The wedding feast of Cana is an image of the Church: at the center there is Jesus who in his mercy performs a sign; around him are the disciples, the first fruits of the new community; and beside Jesus and the disciples is Mary, the provident and prayerful Mother.  Mary partakes of the joy of ordinary people and helps it to increase; she intercedes with her Son on behalf of the spouses and all the invited guests.  Nor does Jesus refuse the request of his Mother.  How much hope there is in that event for all of us!  We have a Mother with benevolent and watchful eyes, like her Son; a heart that is maternal and full of mercy, like him; hands that want to help, like the hands of Jesus who broke bread for those who were hungry, touched the sick and healed them.  All this fills us with trust and opens our hearts to the grace and mercy of Christ.”

U.S. AMBASSADOR SAYS POPE FRANCIS WILL “TOUCH ON THE CORE VALUES THAT AMERICA HOLDS UP”

The US Ambassador to the Holy See, Kenneth Hackett, in an interview with Vatican Radio, described his emotion and that of his fellow Americans as they ready for the Pope’s arrival in the U.S. from Cuba on September 22. Ambassaor Hackett used terms such as, “[T]o listen to him with open hearts,” in “an excitement of faith,” which is the proper disposition of “a generous people” and a “nation of many peoples. (photo: news.va)

AMB KEN HACKETT

Vatican Radio writes: “Focused on the Holy Father’s participation in the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, the apostolic journey to the United States from September 22 to 27 is taking place under the banner: ‘Love is our Mission’. The stay is scheduled to include at least one historical first: Pope Francis is to address a joint meeting of Congress on September 24th. In a conversation with Vatican Radio’s Director of English Programming Sean-Patrick Lovett, Ambassador Hackett said, “[H]e will touch on those core values that America holds up.”

What of the reception the Holy Father can expect from US lawmakers at a time in which they are politically divided? “We’re going to listen to him with open hearts when he talks about migration, and poverty, and climate. You know, they’re smart people in Congress and they’re going to say: well, there’s a partisan element to us but there is also a human element to us and when the Holy Father talks about how we treat our Earth.”

The US Ambassador to the Holy See expects the Holy Father to challenge the humanity of his people, as well. “[H]e will make a mark when he meets with the homeless in Washington,” Hackett said, adding, “that’s wonderful for a very particular reason: it highlights the situation that we know as a nation we should be doing more to address.” Pope Francis is also scheduled to visit a prison. “Our correctional system has kind of gone out of control in a way, and I hope that he speaks about capital punishment, and solitary confinement, and using our prison system and correctional system as a rehabilitative rather than just straight punitive action,” the Ambassador said.

Perhaps most significant, however, is the personal moment of this visit for Ambassador Hackett, himself a Catholic. “I’m so proud, so proud,” the Ambassador said. “To realize that the Pope is coming to the United States’ three cities [Washington, DC, Philadelphia and New York]: wonderful, just wonderful.”

Click here to read the full and very interesting interview on Vatican Radio: http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2015/09/15/amb_hackett_%E2%80%9Can_excitement_of_faith%E2%80%9D_ahead_of_popes_visit/1171872

VATICAN STATS ON THE CHURCH IN CUBA AND IN THE U.S.

The Central Statistics Office of the Church has published some data relative to the Catholic Church in Cuba and the United States, given Pope Francis’ impending visit to those two countries, The statistics are from December 31, 2013.

On that date, Cuba’s population was 11,192,000 inhabitants, of whom 6,775,000 – about 60.5 percent – are Catholics. There are 11 ecclesiastical circumscriptions, 283 parishes and 2,094 pastoral centres. There are currently 17 bishops, 365 priests, 659 men and women religious, 85 seminarians, and 4,395 catechists. The Church has six centers for Catholic education, from pre-school to university level. The charitable and social centers belonging to the Church or directed by ecclesiastics or religious in Cuba include 173 hospitals and clinics, one home for the elderly or disabled, two orphanages and nurseries, and three special centers for social education or re-education and institutions of other types.

On December 31, 2013, the U.S. population was 316,253,000 inhabitants, of whom 71,796,000 are Catholics, representing 22.7 per cent of the population. There are 196 ecclesiastical circumscriptions, 18,256 parishes and 2,183 pastoral centers. There are currently 457 bishops, 40,967 priests, 55,390 men and women religious, 381,892 catechists and 5,829 seminarians. The Church has 11,265 centers for Catholic education, from pre-school to university level. With regard to church run charitable and social center or centers directed by ecclesiastics or religious, there are 888 hospitals and clinics, two leper colonies, 1,152 homes for the elderly or disabled, 1,090 orphanages and nurseries, 981 family advisory centers and other centers for the protection of life, and 4,295 special centers for social education or re-education and institutions of other types.

 

CUBAN BISHOPS ANNOUNCE PAPAL ITINERARY FOR SEPTEMBER VISIT

I will soon be leaving to film a spot for EWTN television and, immediately after that, will meet up with Caritas members at St. Peter’s Basilica for the papal Mass at 5:30 that will open the 20th General Assembly of Caritas Internationalis. The press conference held this morning to present the general assembly as it meets on the theme, “One Human Family, Caring for Creation,” just ended. Presenters included CI President, Cardinal Oscar Rodrigues Maradiaga (who is also one of the C9, the Council of 9 cardinals who advise the Pope), CI Secretary General Michel Roy, Dominican theologian, Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez, and Haridas Varikottil, an agriculural expert in Caritas India.

For a report on that conference, you might want to go to news.va where, in midafternoon, Rome time,VIS will post its multi-lingual account of the press conference. Other news of the day will also be in the VIS report. (www.news.va)

CUBAN BISHOPS ANNOUNCE PAPAL ITINERARY FOR SEPTEMBER VISIT

The Cuban bishops have announced the preliminary details of Pope Francis’ September 19 to 22 visit to this Caribbean island. Francis will be the third Pope to visit since St. John Paul’s five-day stay in 1998 and Benedict XVI’s pilgrimage in 2012.

The Holy Father will visit three Cuban cities and the national Shrine of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, the shrine of Cuba’s patron saint, according to the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba.EL COBRE

He is scheduled to go to Havana, Holguín, and the shrine of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre (Nuestra Señora de la Caridad del Cobre). El Cobre is about 12 miles outside Santiago. The statue of Our Lady, known affectionately in Cuba as La Cachita, was rescued by three fishermen in the Bay of Nipe after a storm from a ship about to capsize. The Madonna wore a sign that read “Yo soy la Virgen de la Caridad” (I am the Virgin of Charity).
EL COBRE  2

The most important shrine for Cubans is located in the foothills of the Sierra Maestra near the old copper mines that give it its name.  Built in 1927, its full name is El Sanctuario de Nuestra Señora de la Caridad del Cobre. The Virgin is the protectress of Cuba. In 1998 St. John Paul II visited the shrine, and called the Virgin “La Reina de los Cubanos” (Queen of Cubans) and donated a rosary and crown. Our Lady is clothed in a glittering gold robe.

EL COBRE 3

The Cuban bishops said the Holy Father would arrive in Cuba on Saturday, September 19 and remain on the island until September 22 when he leaves from Santiago for his trip to the United States.

CASTRO: IF THE POPE CONTINUES THIS WAY, I WILL GO BACK TO PRAYING AND TO THE CHURCH – REGINA COELI: POPE GREETS MOTHERS AND PRO-LIFE MARCHERS

Just a heads up to let you know that these pages might be Joan’s Rome-lite this week!  The agenda for coming days includes a number of press conferences and Vatican events hosted by several pontifical councils as well as by Caritas Internationalis as it meets in general assembly this week, starting with the opening Mass late tomorrow afternoon in St. Peter’s Basilica with Pope Francis.

I have a number of friends who are in town or about to arrive for these events. I’ve been invited to the papal Mass tomorrow and to other sessions of the Caritas general assembly  during which time I hope to interview some people for Vatican Insider. Some events are near or inside Vatican City while others are up the road a bit, as they say.

There was a lot of news over the weekend and today as well. Pope Francis had a number of meetings on his agenda but for now I want to focus on his historic meeting Sunday with Raul Castro, president of Cuba and brother of the ageing Fidel Castro. Pope Francis will travel to Cuba in September before he visits the U.S. where he will address the United Nations in New York, the U.S. Congress in Washington, D.C. and preside at the World meeting of Families in Philadelphia.

I’ll also bring you some of Francis’ greetings at Sunday’s Regina Coeli. By the way, I did post several other meaningful news stories on Facebook.

In a different vein: Don’t let anyone tell you computers don’t have a mind of their own!  I have no idea why (an expression I often use vis-a-vis computers) but I can only write in WORD today if I have closed my email accounts.

CASTRO: IF THE POPE CONTINUES THIS WAY, I WILL GO BACK TO PRAYING AND TO THE CHURCH

Sunday’s meeting between Pope Francis and President Raul Castro of Cuba was historic in quite a number of ways. Historic for the Pope as he rarely, if ever, receives people in audience on a Sunday. Historic in the time Francis dedicated to Castro – almost one hour (and almost unheard of). And even, as the press office statement said, “meaningful in the gifts exchanged.”

The president’s small motorcade arrived at the back entrance to the Paul VI Hall known as the “fungo,” or mushroom, where a central pillar supports a rounded roof area. This is just meters away from the Santa Marta residence where the Holy Father lives. Pope Francis asked that a small contingent of Swiss Guards be present, as it normally would be in the San Damaso courtyard where most heads of State are received when the Pope welcomes them to the Apostolic Palace. (photos: news.va)

POPE & CASTRO

The Holy See Press Office director, Fr. Federico Lombardi, gave some specifics about the meeting:

“This morning the Holy Father received in private audience the president of the Republic of Cuba, Raul Castro Ruz. The meeting took place in the Pope’s study adjacent to Paul VI Hall.

“Upon arrival, at 9.30 a.m., the president was received by the prefect of the Papal Household, Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, accompanied by his substitute, Archbishop Giovanni Angelo Becciu and the secretary for Relations with States, Bishop Paul Richard Gallagher. A personal meeting with the Pope then took place in the study, which lasted more than 50 minutes and was very cordial.

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“The president, as he declared before leaving the Vatican, thanked the Holy Father for his active role in improving relations between Cuba and the United States. He also expressed the sentiments of the Cuban people as they await and prepare for his upcoming visit to the island in September.

“The Pope and the president then proceeded to the adjacent room for the presentation of the delegation accompanying Raul Castro, composed of around a dozen figures including the deputy prime minister, the minister for foreign affairs and the ambassador to the Holy See.

“The exchange of gifts was very meaningful. The president offered the Pope a valuable commemorative medal of the Cathedral of Havana and a contemporary painting, depicting a large cross made up of wrecked boats, with a migrant in prayer in the foreground. The artist, the Cuban Kcho, was present and explained to the Pope that it was inspired by his great efforts to raise awareness in the world of the problems faced by migrants and refugees, beginning with his famous trip to Lampedusa.

“The Pope gave the president a copy of his Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” and a large medallion depicting St. Martin covering the poor man with his cape. The Holy Father observed that he was particularly keen to give this gift, as it recalled the commitment not only to protecting the poor but also to promoting dignity.

President Raul Castro and his delegation left the Vatican shortly after 10.30 a.m.”

Castro, 83, had asked the Vatican if he could meet with the Pope on Sunday on his way back to Cuba from Moscow. He told the Vatican he wanted to personally thank the Pope for mediating between Cuba and the U.S., a mediation that led to a thaw in the “cold war” between the two over the past 50 years and the resumption of diplomatic ties.

Castro later met with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and, after that meeting, told reporters at a televised press conferenvce, he was “really impressed by (Pope Francis’) wisdom and his modesty.” The Cuban president also said:  e also told reporters“I promise to go to all his Masses, and with satisfaction. “I read all the speeches of the pope, his commentaries, and if the pope continues this way, I will go back to praying and go back to the church. I’m not joking.”

Both of the Castro brothers were baptized as Catholics and educated by Jesuits before the 1959 revolution. Francis’ predecessors, Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, both visited Cuba where they met the Castro brothers, Fidel and Raul.

REGINA COELI: POPE GREETS MOTHERS AND PRO-LIFE MARCHERS

Following his reflections on Sunday’s Gospel and the recitation of the Marian prayer in the presence of a jam-packed St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis had greetings for mothers, noting that, “today, many countries celebrate Mother’s Day.” He put aside his prepared remarks and, looking down on the vast crowd with a broad smile, asked, “Are there any mothers here?” The crowd’s reaction was immediate, they too smiled and said “yes” in many languages.

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The Holy Father asked for a show of hands of the mothers present, and it looked like the wave was being done in St. Peter’s Square!  He then asked for applause for all mothers present in the square: “That applause embraces all mothers, all our dear mothers: those who live with us physically, but also those who live with us spiritually. May the Lord bless them all, and may the Mother of God, to whom this month is dedicated, watch over them all.”

(Vatican Radio) Also Sunday, during his Regina Coeli address, Pope Francis greeted participants in Italy’s fifth annual March for Life. “I greet all those participating in the initiative for life taking place this morning in Rome,” the Pope said. “It is important to work together to defend and promote life.”

Several thousand people from all parts of Italy and from around the world took part in the March through the heart of Rome’s historic centre. Among those taking part in the March was Cardinal Raymond Burke, the patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.

Speaking with Vatican Radio, Cardinal Burke said, “St. John Paul II urged us, in his wonderful encyclical letter on the Gospel of Life, to make public manifestations to demonstrate the incomparable beauty, the inviolability of innocent, defenceless human life.” He said the March is “very important in Italy as a sign of the Italian peoples dedication to the apostolate for the restoration of the respect for all human life, from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death.”

Cardinal Burke also mentioned the international aspect of the March for Life. “It’s wonderful to see the international participation” in the March, he said. “So many come from various countries because they want to join the Italian people in their testimony to the dignity of human life, created in God’s own image and redeemed by our Lord Jesus Christ.”

POPE FRANCIS TO RECEIVE CUBAN PRESIDENT RAUL CASTRO ON SUNDAY – CONGREGATION CONFIRMS JUNIPERO SERRA CANONIZATION – THE BEAUTY OF CHRISTIAN MARRIAGE, “DESIGNED BY GOD” – THE HARLEM GLOBETROTTERS, CHINESE PILGRIMS, 70TH ANNIVERSARY OF END OF WWII

One of my favorite Vatican events is the annual swearing-in ceremony of the new Swiss Guards. I will miss it this year as I have a parish council meeting and some of the timing of the two events overlaps. In any case, I might be able to bring you a few photos tomorrow from a German friend who is a photographer and will be at the ceremony. Here are a few I took at a ceremony:

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The Pontifical Swiss Guard was founded by Pope Julius II in 1506 as a stable corps, directly dependant on the Holy See, whose main duties were to guard the person of the Roman Pontiff and the Apostolic Palaces. The traditional swearing-in date of May 6 commemorates that day in 1527 when 147 members of the 189-member Swiss Guards lost their lives during the Sack of Rome when they fell in battle, protecting Pope Clement VII and the Church from the onslaught of the troops of Emperor Charles V.

POPE FRANCIS TO RECEIVE CUBAN PRESIDENT RAUL CASTRO ON SUNDAY

(I posted this news on Facebook yesterday as it was announced) – Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, Director of the Holy See Press Office, issued the following statement to journalists Tuesday afternoon: “I confirm that on Sunday morning May 10, 2015, the Holy Father will receive in a strictly private manner the President of the Republic of Cuba, Mr. Raúl Castro Rux.  The meeting will take place in the study of the Paul VI Audience Hall.

As we already know, President Raúl Castro has publicly thanked the Pope for his role in fostering the rapprochement between Cuba and the United States of America. The Pope will visit the Caribbean island in September en route to the United States.”

CONGREGATION CONFIRMS JUNIPERO SERRA CANONIZATION

Better late than never, as the saying goes. It is now – more or less – official:

Yesterday afternoon Pope Francis received in audience Cardinal Angelo Amato, S.D.B., prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and, among the decrees he approved, was“the affirmative sentence of the ordinary session of the cardinals and bishops who are members of the congregation regarding the upcoming canonization of Blessed Junipero Serra.”

Of course, this had already been announced on January 15 by Pope Francis as he flew from Sri Lanka to the Philippines, the final leg of his apostolic trip in Asia. He said at the time, “In September, God willing, I will canonize Junipero Serra in the United States. He was the evangelizer of the West in the United States.”

The September canonization will be what is known as an equivalent canonization. The process was established in the 18th century by Pope Benedict XIV. In an equivalent canonization, the Pope waives the usual judicial process and declares that a blessed’s liturgical cult is extended to the universal Church.

THE BEAUTY OF CHRISTIAN MARRIAGE, “DESIGNED BY GOD”

During his weekly general audience on Wednesday, Pope Francis continued his catechetical reflections on the family, speaking of the nature and purpose of marriage in the order of creation and in the Divine plan of salvation. He focused specifically on Christian marriage as a Sacrament: an efficacious sign of God’s love for each and every person, for all humanity and for the whole world, a means of grace, and a genuine way of living our common baptismal call to holiness.

He was addressing 60,000 faithful and pilgrims who had gathered in St. Peter’s Square for this weekly papal event.

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“Christian marriage,” said Francis, “is that sacrament which builds up the community of the Church and of society. Marriage has been inscribed in creation’s design by God, and, by his grace, countless Christian men and women have lived married life fully.”

The Holy Father went on to describe marriage as an act of faith in God’s plan for humanity and an act of selfless love. Drawing on the writings of St. Paul the Apostle, the Pope focused especially on the duties of husbands to their wives, saying that married love is an image of the love between Christ and his Church, and that a husband is therefore to love his wife as Christ loved the Church, by giving himself completely for her.

Francis said that marriage was “not just a ceremony that takes place in the Church, with flowers, a dress and photographs. Christian marriage is a Sacrament that happens in the Church, but it also makes the Church. It starts a new family life.”

Referring to a letter of St. Paul, he reiterated that a husband has the responsibility to love his wife, just as Christ loves the Church.

He had this to say to all husbands in off-the-cuff remarks: “I hope all you husbands here understand this. You must love your wives just like Christ loves His Church. This is serious business,” he said to applause, “this is no joke.”

“When a man and a woman marry in the Lord, they participate in the missionary life of the Church, by living not only for themselves or their own family, but for all people,” explained Pope Francis. Therefore, the life of the Church is enriched through every marriage which shows forth this beauty, and is impoverished when marriage is disfigured in any way.”

The Pope explained that “every couple that faithfully and courageously lives the grace of this sacrament assists the Church in offering the gifts of faith, hope and love to all people, and helps others to experience these gifts in their married lives and their families.” Francis prayed that married couples everywhere “live this mystery ever more fully, trusting in God’s tenderness and the Church’s maternal care.”

THE HARLEM GLOBETROTTERS, CHINESE PILGRIMS, 70TH ANNIVERSARY OF END OF WWII

At today’s general audience in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis met with members of the Harlem Globetrotters, the famous basketball team from the United States, who gave the Pope a jersey with the name “Pope Francis” and the number 90. Before they met, some of the players entertained the faithful by spinning their signature red-white-and-blue basketballs. (photo: news.va)

POPE- HARLEM; GLOBETROTTERS

The Harlem Globetrotters are an exhibition basketball team founded in the 1920’s, featuring African-American players at a time when most sports were segregated.  In later years, they were known for adding comedy and stunts to their routines. They are currently in Italy as part of their 2015 international tour.

Before the start of the audience catechesis, as Pope Francis circled St. Peter’s Square in his trademark jeep, he spotted a group of pilgrims from the Chinese diocese of Wenzhou. He stopped the popemobile and greeted the group as they carried a placard from their  diocese. Wenzhou is a city on the east coast of the Chinese mainland, which counts more than 9 million inhabitants in its metropolitan area. (Wenzhou is in the Annuario Pontificio, the Pontifical Yearbook, as Yongjia: it gives a street address as contact but, unlike other dioceses of the world, there are no name of a bishop, no numbers for total Catholics, priests, deacons, religious, seminarians, etc.)

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Later, after finishing the catechesis summary in different languages and multi-lingual greetings to pilgrims, the Holy Father noted that, “n the next few days various capital cities will commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe. On this occasion I entrust to the Lord, by the intercession of Mary Queen of Peace, my hope that society may learn from the mistakes of the past and that, faced with the current conflicts that are tearing asunder various regions of the world, all civil leaders may persevere in their search for the common good and in the promotion of a culture of peace.”

THE ROLE OF THE VATICAN AND POPE FRANCIS IN U.S.-CUBA RAPPROCHEMENT

Mr. Murphy of Murphy’s Law has paid another visit! My building had some work done two days ago on one of the main water pipes, and an announcement to this effect said there would be no water from 9 am to about 1 pm. However, it was not mentioned that the water would be drained from the pipes of all households linked to that side of the building, and that it would be wise to turn off washing machines, hot water heaters, or any other appliance that used water. Unaware of this, I had my water heater on, as I always do, and by the end of the afternoon, emptied of water to heat, it had burned out! This comes on the heels of three items – almost simultaneously – headed to the appliance cemetery: my wash machine, the fridge and my satellite decoder box (not, strictly speaking, an appliance). New items have been bought and installed (I did the decoder box myself).

Thank the Lord, I have a trusted plumber and he and an assistant spent several hours draining and removing the old heater, which is in the main bathroom, buying and installing a new one, in addition to which they fixed two problems in a second small bathroom and the kitchen.

After they left, I had a quick lunch at 4:15 and have had to put off appointments I had for this afternoon as well as the cleaning of all three rooms where Domenico had worked, to write this column, given the historic moment for the Vatican, Pope Francis, Cuba and the U.S.

I’ll start with a fascinating personal story today about Cuba that was directly linked to my work at the Vatican Information Service (VIS) in its early years, in the early- and mid-90s.

First, some background, to understand the story:

Sometime around 1989, Pope John Paul II asked Joaquin Navarro-Valls, then the head of the Holy See Press Office, if there was an efficient and timely way to get Vatican news to the nuncios – the papal ambassadors – throughout the world. The world’s bishops, nuncios and episcopal conferences had to rely on domestic newspapers, TV and radio for their news of the Pope and Vatican, although there was, of course, Vatican Radio and other Catholic news agencies. The Vatican paper, L’Osservatore Romano, which reprinted papal speeches and documents in their entirety and gave all the news not covered by secular or other media (nominations, daily papal audiences, etc) often took weeks or even months to travel to Church offices around the globe.

Thus, as a result of John Paul II’s request that Navarro-Valls explore the possibility of a way of daily communicating with nuncios and bishops, VIS was born. Nuncios and bishops had to pay for an annual subscription in the early, pre-Internet years, as each daily bulletin – first in Spanish and English, and later in Italian and French – was sent via fax. The subscription cost was not inconsequential. However, the money that came from the archdioceses and dioceses that could afford the full annual payment was shared with dioceses who wanted to received the VIS fax but could not afford to, thus efectively subsidizing them. We made sure that no nuncio, no bishop would go without VIS simply because they did not have the subscription money – or the equipment, a fax machine.

In time, VIS became known throughout the Church and individuals, schools, universities, parishes, and many other like groups subscribed to VIS. Its first transmitted news service via fax was December 21, 1990. The second was after the Christmas holidays, on December 28 and our regular, five-days a week transmissions began on January 1, 1991.

And, in time, the Internet became the vehicle for communicating. I must say here that VIS had a page on the brand new WWW (World Wide Web) even before the Holy See had its page, http://www.vatican.va!

Once the idea was explained to Pope St. John Paul and he gave the go-ahead, Navarro Valls found office space in the building housing the press office and the proxess of interviewing staff began. VIS was transmitted in the early years in English and Spanish (these were the two languages most used by nuncios and bishops as either their first or second language) and there were five of us on staff. I was the English language writer and editor, in the early days Fernando Monge and then Alfonso Bailly Baillere wrote the Spanish version of VIS and Carmen Sanchez Asiain translated from English into her native Spanish, and back again! Carmen’s English was impeccable as she had spent considerable time in both Ireland and India where she always spoke English. She died tragically of a heart attack at age 56 on September 30, 1996.

And now my Cuba story, brief as it is:

Early in the 1990s, it became known to Pedro Brunori the Italo-Argentinian head of VIS from 1990 to 1998, that Church officials in Cuba wanted to receive the daily VIS bulletin but did not have a fax machine and they were not allowed by the State to have one. In addition the telephone line they had was under surveillance. The Vatican solved the problem by sending Pedro to Cuba on a diplomatic passport with a small suitcase that contained a satellite phone. That phone line served to received the daily VIS bulletin.

There were many similarly wonderful stories about VIS’ first years that I will tell someday in a book.

As I said on my Facebook page today, posting one of the Vatican stories about its role and that of Pope Francis in the just-announced rapprochement between the United States and Cuba, “St. John Paul II opened doors on his visit to Cuba in late January 1998 and now Pope Francis, the first Pope from Latin America, has opened the doors even further as it has become known of the Vatican’s role in the new U.S.-Cuba relations.

Before John Paul II would even consider travelling to Cuba, the Vatican set out a number of conditions that had to be met (another story for a day when I have more time). Months and months of behind the scenes talks and meetings took place to solve the issues and make possible the papal trip. Following the announcement yesterday of new U.S.-Cuba ties, many are asking now: Did the U.S. lay out any conditions concerning issues such as freedom, human rights, access to means of communication, etc. and say they had to be met first? We do not know now. We do know, in reports from Cuba, that the Catholic Church is the most trusted institution in the country by the people.

Here are some of the stories from the Vatican today: the Pope’s reaction, remarks by Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, the communique from the Vatican Secretariat of State, and a Vatican Radio summary of yesterday’s events. All stories are by Vatican Radio at news.va

THE ROLE OF THE VATICAN AND POPE FRANCIS IN U.S.-CUBA RAPPROCHEMENT

(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis on Wednesday offered his congratulations to the governments of the United States and Cuba, as they announced the two countries will start talks on resuming diplomatic relations. A statement from the Vatican Secretariat of State said that in recent months the Pope had written to both Cuban President Raul Castro and U.S. President Barack Obama, inviting them to “resolve humanitarian questions of common interest.” The Holy See also met with delegations from both countries in the Vatican last October, providing what the statement calls “its good offices to facilitate a constructive dialogue.” The communiqué says the Holy See will continue to offer support for initiatives on the part of both countries to strengthen bilateral relations and promote the well-being of their respective citizens.

Here is that communique from the Secretariat of State:

“The Holy Father wishes to express his warm congratulations for the historic decision taken by the Governments of the United States of America and Cuba to establish diplomatic relations, with the aim of overcoming, in the interest of the citizens of both countries, the difficulties which have marked their recent history. In recent months, Pope Francis wrote letters to the President of the Republic of Cuba, His Excellency Mr Raúl Castro, and the President of the United States, The Honorable Barack H. Obama, and invited them to resolve humanitarian questions of common interest, including the situation of certain prisoners, in order to initiate a new phase in relations between the two Parties The Holy See received Delegations of the two countries in the Vatican last October and provided its good offices to facilitate a constructive dialogue on delicate matters, resulting in solutions acceptable to both Parties. The Holy See will continue to assure its support for initiatives which both nations will undertake to strengthen their bilateral relations and promote the wellbeing of their respective citizens.”

(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis spoke on Thursday at his joy over the rapprochement between the United States and Cuba, two nations who have been estranged for many years, saying this was a result of diplomacy. His remarks came in a brief off-the-cuff address to new non-resident ambassadors to the Holy See as they presented their Letters of Credence: Bahamas, Bangladesh, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Finland, Malaysia, Mali, Mongolia, New Zealand, Rwanda, Tanzania and Togo. He said the work of an ambassador is to take small steps aimed at building peace, bringing the hearts of people closer together and sowing brotherhood between peoples and nations.

“I give you a warm welcome and I hope that every time you come here you feel as though at home. Our welcome and our respect (are) for you and also for your people and the heads of your Governments.  I greet you all and hope your work will be fruitful. The work of an ambassador is a job of taking small steps, doing small things but whose aim always is to build peace, to bring the hearts of people closer together and sow brotherhood between peoples.  This is your work, but done with small things, very small things. And today we are all happy because yesterday we saw two nations, who were estranged for so many years, take a step to bring them closer together. This was achieved by ambassadors, by diplomacy. Yours is a noble, very noble work. I hope it will be fruitful and may God bless you. Thank you.”

(Vatican Radio)  Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the (Vatican) Secretary of State, said on Thursday that Pope Francis played a very significant role in facilitating the rapprochement between the U.S. and Cuba. Speaking in an exclusive interview with Vatican Radio, Cardinal Parolin spoke of the Holy See’s satisfaction over the agreement between the U.S. and Cuba to restore diplomatic ties and praised the leaders of the two nations for their courageous decision.

Q: What was the specific role of Pope Francis – the first Pope to come from the South American continent?

A. I would like to repeat the satisfaction of the Holy See for this important step in the relations between the United States and Cuba.  And also to stress that the role of the Holy Father was very significant in this conclusion.  Of course, in the sense that since the beginning of his pontificate, he has stressed the importance for the person and the groups and people to meet together. What we have called the culture of encounter. I think that this is the proper word. But his teaching then, his teaching which also pointed out this importance and this necessity. At the same time, the help to the two parties, the United States and Cuba, writing to the two presidents and stressing the importance of finding a solution to their historical differences.

Q. What was the Holy See’s diplomatic role in these negotiations?

A. In this case, the Holy See has tried to facilitate the dialogue between the two parties according to the, let’s say, the objective that the Holy Father Pope Francis has given to the diplomacy of the Holy See. Which is of course traditional in its history, but now he (it) has (a) new  accent (emphasis)(sic) because of the situation, the particular situation of our world – which is to build bridges between persons and groups and nations.  And then it was, let’s say, a service of facilitating and of promoting the dialogue between the two parties.

Q. The roles of President Obama and the Cuban President were also important in these negotiations…

A. Of course, of course.  I would like to, just to highlight the courage they had in this decision.  It is a decision, I think…very important and of course, not everybody agrees with that but I think that it was important from the side of the two presidents to have the courage and the strength to make such a decision.  And I think that we have really, finally, at the end, to thank God who inspired such good sentiments and intentions (of) the two leaders.  Hoping that this example could be taken by many other leaders in the region and in the world and to try, really, to overcome differences and conflict through negotiation and through dialogue.

(Vatican Radio) After more than a half-century of hostility, the United States and Cuba are to work toward the establishment of full diplomatic relations – and U.S. President Barack Obama says that Pope Francis played an instrumental role in creating the conditions for the development.

The Secretariat of State of the Holy See issued a statement offering Pope Francis’ expressions of  “warm congratulations for the historic decision taken by the Governments of the United States of America and Cuba to establish diplomatic relations, with the aim of overcoming, in the interest of the citizens of both countries, the difficulties which have marked their recent history.”

The announcement of efforts to normalize relations came in the context of the release of U.S. aid worker Alan Gross and an exchange of intelligence officers being detained on the island and in the U.S.

U.S. President Barack Obama said that Pope Francis played a role in bringing him and Cuban leader Raul Castro together.  “His Holiness Pope Francis issued a personal appeal to me, and to Cuba’s President Raul Castro, urging us to resolve Alan’s case, and to address Cuba’s interest in the release of three Cuban agents who have been jailed in the United States for over 15 years,” Obama said.

Raul Castro also welcomed the exchange and the move to normalize relations. “[President] Obama’s decision,” said Castro, “deserves the respect and acknowledgment of our people.”

Relations between Cuba and the U.S. deteriorated rapidly and eventually disintegrated entirely in the wake of the takeover of the island by Communist revolutionaries led by current Cuban president Raul Castro’s brother, Fidel, in 1959.