Address by Pope John Paul II at the welcome ceremony during his apostolic journey to Cuba (January 21-25, 1998)

By: Papa Juan Pablo II

Juan Pablo II a su llegada a La Habana


Havana Airport
Wednesday, January 21, 1998

Mr President,
Cardinal and Brothers in the Episcopate,
Your Excellency Authorities,
Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Dear brothers and sisters of Cuba:

1. I thank God, Lord of history and our destinies, who has allowed me to come to this earth, described by Christopher Columbus as “the most beautiful that human eyes have ever seen”. Arriving on this island, where the Cross of Christ was planted more than five hundred years ago – a cross jealously preserved today as a treasure in the parish temple of Baracoa, at the eastern end of the country – I greet everyone with particular emotion and great affection.

The happy day has come, so long desired, when I can correspond to the invitation that the Bishops of Cuba made to me some time ago, an invitation that the President of the Republic also made to me and which he personally reiterated at the Vatican on the occasion of his visit in November 1996. It fills me with satisfaction to visit this Nation, to be among you and to be able to share a journey full of faith, hope and love.

2. I am pleased to address my greeting first to President Dr. Fidel Castro Ruz, who has had the gesture of coming to receive me and to whom I wish to express my gratitude for his words of welcome. I also express my appreciation to the other authorities present here, as well as to the Diplomatic Corps and to those who have offered their valuable cooperation in preparing this Pastoral Visit.

I greet tenderly my Brothers in the Episcopate; in particular, Cardinal Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino, Archbishop of Havana, and each of the other Cuban Bishops, as well as those who have come from other countries to participate in the events of this Pastoral Visit and thus renew and strengthen, as so often, the close bonds of communion and affection of their particular Churches with the Church that is in Cuba. In this greeting my heart is also opened with great affection to the dear priests, deacons, religious, catechists and faithful, to those I owe to in the Lord as Pastor and Servant of the Universal Church (cf. Const. dogm. Lumen Gentium, 22). In all of them I see the image of this local Church, so beloved and always present in my heart, feeling very supportive and close to its aspirations and legitimate desires. May this Visit that begins today serve to encourage you all in the effort to put your own efforts to achieve those expectations with the contest of each Cuban and the help of the Holy Spirit. You are and must be the protagonists of your own personal and national history.

I also cordially greet all the Cuban people, addressing everyone without exception: men and women, the elderly and young, adolescents and children; to the people I will meet and who will not be able to attend the different celebrations for various reasons.

3. With this Apostolic Journey I come, in the name of the Lord, to confirm them in faith, to encourage them in hope, to encourage them in charity; to share their deep religious spirit, their struggles, joys and sufferings, celebrating, as members of a great family, the mystery of divine Love and to make it present more deeply in the life and history of this noble people, thirsting for God and spiritual values that the Church, in these five centuries of presence on the island, has continued to dispense. I come as a pilgrim of love, truth and hope, with the desire to give a new impetus to the evangelizing work that, even in the midst of difficulties, this local Church maintains with vitality and apostolic dynamism walking towards the Third Christian Millennium.

4. In fulfilling my ministry, I have continued to proclaim the truth about Jesus Christ, who has revealed to us the truth about man, his mission in the world, the greatness of his destiny, and his inviolable dignity. In this regard, service to man is the way of the Church. Today I come to share with you my deep conviction that the Message of the Gospel leads to love, dedication, sacrifice and forgiveness, so that if a people walk this path it is a people in hope of a better future. Therefore, from the first moments of my presence among you, I want to say with the same strength as at the beginning of my Pontificate: “Do not be afraid to open your hearts to Christ”, let Him enter into your lives, into your families, into society, so that everything may be renewed. The Church repeats this call, calling without exception to all: individuals, families, peoples, so that by faithfully following Jesus Christ they may find the full meaning of their lives, put themselves at the service of their fellowmen, transform family, labor and social relations, which will always benefit the Fatherland and society.

5. The Church in Cuba has always announced Jesus Christ, even if she has sometimes had to do so with a shortage of priests and in difficult circumstances. I would like to express my appreciation to so many Cuban believers for their fidelity to Christ, to the Church and to the Pope, as well as for the proven respect for the most genuine religious traditions learned from the elders, and for the courage and persevering spirit of dedication they have witnessed in the midst of their sufferings and longings. All this has been rewarded on many occasions with the solidarity shown by other ecclesial communities in America and around the world. Today, as always, the Church in Cuba wishes she could have the space to continue serving everyone in accordance with the mission and teachings of Jesus Christ.

Beloved children of the Catholic Church in Cuba: I know well how long you have waited for the time of my Visit, and you know how much I have desired it. That is why I accompany with prayer my best vows so that this land can offer everyone an atmosphere of freedom, mutual trust, social justice and lasting peace. May Cuba be opened with all its magnificent possibilities to the world and that the world may be opened to Cuba, so that this people, who like every man and nation seek the truth, who work to succeed, who yearn for harmony and peace, may look to the future with hope.

6. With the confidence placed in the Lord and feeling very united with the beloved sons and daughters of Cuba, I warmly thank you for this warm welcome with which my Pastoral Visit begins, which I entrust to the motherly protection of the Blessed Virgin of Copper Charity. I cordially bless all, and in a particular way the poor, the sick, the marginalized and all who suffer in body or spirit.

Praise be to Jesus Christ! Thanks a lot.

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