His Excellency Monsignor Juan de la Caridad García Rodríguez,
Archbishop of Havana, and soon Emmo. Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church, my deepest congratulations,
H.E. Lord Apostolic Nuncio, Msgr. Giorgio Lingua,
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,
Dear priests and consecrated persons,
Very illustrious civil and military authorities,
Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Dear brothers and sisters:
We celebrate in this Church Cathedral of Havana this Eucharist in suffrage for who was its pastor for thirty-five long years, Cardinal Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino, when it is just over a month after his death.
My presence among you is due to a debt of recognition before him, because of the good relationship of friendship that was created between us, when he served in this country as Apostolic Nuncio, and which remained through time. I was able to be a beneficiary of these concrete gestures of affection and closeness, when last year, although I was already affected by the disease, he faced the long journey to Rome, to accompany me in the Consistory, in which Pope Francis elevated me to cardinal dignity. That was further a sign of your mettle as a noble and close person, of which I am sure you are also witnesses.
On this day when we remember cardinal Jaime’s beloved figure, we can see his life in the light of the Word of God that we have proclaimed and see what he says to us today. We have just heard in the Gospel the well-known account of the disciples of Emmaus. They left Jerusalem disappointed and filled with sadness, having lived a few tragic days when their Master had been put to justice on a cross. In that moment of despair, the Risen One came to meet them, and began to walk with them. He took advantage of that moment to explain what had happened through the Word of God. This dialogue was restorative and hopeful; their faces were transformed and their hearts were filled with comfort.
Here we can think of our dear Cardinal Ortega, a lover of the Word of God, who read and meditated constantly, and in it he found the way to engage in dialogue with his Lord. In this assiduous encounter in prayer, he received the strength and light necessary to face everything with a serenity and joy that they spread. Despite the difficulties, misunderstandings, disappointments and sufferings of life he always maintained that inner joy that he showed with a permanent and serene smile. We’re sure of this. It was not a fictional or casual smile to please everyone, but it came out of the interior because his life was rooted in that encounter with Jesus. His faith and love for God marked his whole life and was the impetus of all his priestly and episcopal ministry.
I encourage you, as the Holy Father Francis constantly does, to read and ponder the Gospels. It is through Scripture that God speaks to us and we can receive the understanding to understand the way we are going and it will also arise from us, as our friend Archbishop Jaime had, that smile that is God’s life in us, the joy of the Gospel.
The disciples of Emmaus invited that stranger to stay with them, for it was late (cf. vv. 29-30). Sitting around the table, He took the bread and pronounced the blessing, broke it, and distributed it; then their eyes opened and recognized him (cf. vv. 30-31). How beautiful for a priest, a bishop to relive this “Eucharistic” moment of thanksgiving, in which the faithful recognize Jesus and hope returns to them! The Eucharist creates community and Church. This captivated Cardinal Ortega, and for that service he was called from his earliest childhood. He felt the vocation to serve and give his life. He was in love with his priesthood, which conceived him from his youth as a gift and a responsibility to others. As the Holy Father has recently written to priests: “Vocation, more than our choice, is a response to a free call from the Lord” (Letter, 4 August 2019).
Cardinal Ortega understood the passion for the priesthood to make the Eucharist a reality in so many corners of this island, as in other countries. In this love it can be said that he went out of his way for his priests, not with sweet fatherhood, but demanding that they be priests according to the heart of Christ, given to others because they had been called out of pure love. He wanted them to be priests on the way out, as Pope Francis asks, not with partial vision or within limits, but open to the world. Priests dedicated to their community, to their church and Cuban people.
The Cardinal gave himself free of charge to the people entrusted to him without reserving strength; He loved his roots, his hometown of Jagey Grande, his province of Matanzas, his first diocese as Bishop, Pinar del Río, and the church of Havana, which God gave him, finally, as his wife. That’s why how beautiful that testimony he left us from his mother Adela! She waited for him until he returned from his pastoral visits, sometimes well into the night. The son told him not to do it and she replied, “I will always wait for you until whatever time and then I will wait for you in heaven.” This is the heart of mothers, the heart of a priest’s mother. The priest, the bishop do not live for himself, but for God in others. This was understood by his faithful who came to show his support and prayed for him, also during the time of his illness. In these faithful, who are you, we can see the Mother Church who did not leave him, but accompanied and sustained him. A shepherd of this draft, as Cardinal Ortega was, leaves an imronta in his priests and faithful. Now you have, according to your wish, the responsibility to continue to live your vocation with the strength and fidelity for all to believe.
I invite you to continue to pray for this Church of Cuba which you so loved, for your priests, for seminarians, for vocations to the priesthood, to consecrated life, so that the witness of men and women dedicated to God and others may be nourishing so that this people may continue to deepen their faith and that Christ lives.
Those disciples of Emmaus, already with their hearts enarded by the Word of God (cf. Lk 24:32) and with the revelatory comfort of the fraction of bread, did not stood still, but weeded the way. They returned with renewed hope to the community that was locked up and frightened.
When one is certain that Christ has risen, missionary need arises. Cardinal Ortega leaves us with his life obvious evidence of this arddo to bring to others the joy of salvation. When it is full of God one can establish the way of encounter with other cultures, with other religious confessions, with estranged brethren; it is possible to extend bridges of friendship, creating an increasingly just and supportive society. Great was his zeal to strengthen bonds of friendship with others, however different, and to engage in constructive dialogue with government authorities and neighbouring countries. Just mention his role in the negotiations to bring Cuba and the United States of America closer together. His dedication and love for his people, his capacity for dialogue and clairvoyance, placed him in a key place for tensions to fade away and knots loosening.
If you look at the recent Cuban history, as well as so many personal stories, of simple people, they are marked by the passage of the Card. Ortega. No one has been indifferent to his word and deeds. As a priest and bishop, he tried to live the spirit of Emmaus’ disciples. He was an enthusiastic and dedicated missionary, he sought God to give to others with concrete words and gestures, especially those in need and discarded from society, creating places of welcome and charity so that his dignity would be respected and valued.
We are aware that he loved this Cuban land, land that saw him born, grow, mature and also die. He loved his people and carried them in his heart. He worked tirelessly to realize those words that marked a before and after: “May Cuba open up to the world and may the world be opened to Cuba”; words of St John Paul II, the first Pontiff to visit your beautiful island, already in the distant thousand nine hundred and ninety-eight (Welcome Ceremony, 21 January). Subsequently Pope Benedict and Pope Francis have also come to this beloved land as a sign of this communion of the Church of Rome with this particular Cuban church, and as an expression of the reciprocal relations between the Holy See with the Government of this nation. From this beautiful recent history we have to recognize with gratitude the role played by the Habanero Archbishop, Jaime Ortega, supported by the sincere and constructive advice of his Brother Bishops. He always believed in dialogue, as a powerful weapon to build bridges of friendship and fraternity; because with dialogue nothing is lost, without it, everything is lost.
The Apostle Paul in the reading we have proclaimed: “We look not at what is seen, but at what is not seen; indeed, what is seen is transient; what is not seen is eternal” (2:4:17), invites us to have a look that goes beyond apparent realities.
Dear brothers at the end of life will not examine us if we are right in decisions and whether the projects came to fruition, no; we will be questioned for the love placed in each of our actions and words; a love that at first glance may not have been able to be considered or valued, but God sees everything and knows what each heart holds.
As I have already announced, in this celebration we would also like to farewell Bishop Giorgio Lingua, Apostolic Nuncio among you for 4 years and who has been appointed by the Holy Father as his Representative in the Republic of Croatia in Europe. Unite the prayer of suffrage for dear Card. Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino to the Prayer of Thanksgiving to the Lord for the generous work carried out by the Nuncio in Cuba, it seems to me that it is something that will please our Cardinal from heaven, because together in recent years they have collaborated for the building up of the Church and for the progress of this country. May the Lord show mercy to the one who was your beloved Shepherd and welcome him into his Kingdom and accompany with his grace dear Bishop Lingua in his new mission entrusted to him by Pope Francis!