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Cuba must change, Pope says in final homily

Catholic World News - March 28, 2012

“Cuba and the world need change,” Pope Benedict XVI said in his homily as he celebrated Mass for a congregation of nearly 1 million people in Havana on March 28, the final day of his visit to Cuba.

In what an AP report described as an “unusually politicized homily,” the Pontiff called for greater freedom—especially religious freedom—in the Communist nation. He said that authentic change will come “only if each one is in a position to seek the truth and chooses the way of love, sowing reconciliation and fraternity.”

While the Pope challenged the Castro regime by repeating a call for liberty, he also sent a message that government leaders welcomed, criticizing the US embargo of Cuba and noting that in 50 years the US policy had failed to change the Castro regime.

Yet the Pope himself called for change, making his plea most explicit in a call for greater religious freedom. He acknowledged that Cuba has allowed greater activity by the Church, but pressed for more, saying:

It must be said with joy that in Cuba steps have been taken to enable the Church to carry out her essential mission of expressing her faith openly and publicly. Nonetheless, this must continue forwards, and I wish to encourage the country’s government authorities to strengthen what has already been achieved and advance along this path of genuine service to the true good of Cuban society as a whole.

The complicated relationship between the Castro government and the Catholic Church was evident during the Wednesday Mass. President Raul Castro was in attendance, and at the conclusion of the ceremony he rushed to shake the Pontiff’s hand. The government, once officially atheistic, had encouraged attendance at the papal ceremonies and was anxious to show support for the Pontiff.

However the government showed its authoritarian side by preventing anti-Castro protesters from attending the Mass. Reports from Cuba indicated that more than 200 political dissidents had been arrested just prior to the Pope’s arrival in Cuba, and members of the Women in White had been detained so that they could not fulfill their vow to make an appearance at the Mass in Havana.

After the Mass, the Pontiff met privately with Fidel Castro at the residence of the apostolic nuncio in Havana. The 85-year-old Cuban leader, who relinquished power because of his declining health, had requested the meeting.

Pope Benedict was scheduled to leave Cuba late Wednesday afternoon for an overnight flight back to Rome.

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