POPE FRANCIS’ WELCOME CEREMONY

S.S. Francisco en Cuba
S.S. Francisco en Cuba

JOSÉ MARTÍ INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, HAVANA, SEPTEMBER 19, 2015

Mr President,
Distinguished authorities, brothers in the Episcopate,
Ladies and gentlemen:

Thank you very much, Mr President, for your welcome and your warm words of welcome on behalf of the Government and all the Cuban people. My greeting also goes to the authorities and members of the diplomatic corps who have been kind enough to be present at this event. Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino, Archbishop of Havana, Archbishop Dionisio Guillermo García Ibáñez, Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba and President of the Episcopal Conference, the other Bishops and all the Cuban people, I thank them for their fraternal welcome.
Thank you to all who have taken care to prepare for this pastoral visit. And I would like to ask you, Mr President, to convey my sentiments of special consideration and respect to your brother Fidel. In turn, I would like my greeting to reach especially all those people who, for various reasons, will not be able to find and all Cubans scattered around the world.
This year 2015 is celebrated the 80th. anniversary of the establishment of uninterrupted diplomatic relations between the Republic of Cuba and the Holy See. Providence allows me to reach this beloved nation today, following indelible traces of the open path by the unforgettable apostolic journeys made to this island by my two predecessors, St John Paul II and Benedict XVI. I know that your memory arouses gratitude and affection in the people and authorities of Cuba. Today we renew these bonds of cooperation and friendship so that the Church may continue to accompany and encourage the Cuban people in their hopes and concerns, freely and with all the means necessary to bring the proclamation of the Kingdom to the existential peripheries of society.
This apostolic journey also coincides with the First Centenary of the declaration of Our Lady of Charity of Copper as patron saint of Cuba, by Benedict XV. It was the veterans of the War of Independence, moved by feelings of faith and patriotism, who called for our Virgin to be the patron saint of Cuba as a free and sovereign nation. Since then, she has accompanied the history of the Cuban people, sustaining the hope that preserves the dignity of people in the most difficult situations and flagling the promotion of everything that dignifies the human being. His growing devotion is a visible testimony of the presence of Our Lady in the soul of the Cuban people. In these days, I will have the opportunity to go to Cobre, as a son and as a pilgrim, to ask our Mother for all her Cuban children and for this beloved nation, to travel the paths of justice, peace, freedom and reconciliation.
Geographically, Cuba is an archipelago that looks all the way, with extraordinary value as a «key» between north and south, between east and west. His natural vocation is to be a meeting point for all peoples to gather in friendship, as José Martí dreamed, «above the language of the isthmos and the barrier of the seas».1 That same was the desire of St John Paul II with his ardent call to «may Cuba be opened with all its magnificent possibilities to the world and that the world be opened to Cuba».2
For several months now, we have witnessed an event that fills us with hope: the process of normalizing relations between two peoples, after years of estrangation.
It is a sign of the victory of the culture of encounter, of dialogue, of the «system of universal increase […] over the system, dead forever, of dynasty and of groups.»3
I encourage policy makers to continue on this path and to develop all their potential, as proof of the high service they are called to render for the peace and well-being of their peoples and throughout America, as an example of reconciliation for the whole world. The world needs reconciliation, in that atmosphere of World War II, in stages, that we are living.

I put these days under the intercession of Our Lady of Charity of Copper, blessed olallo Valdés and José López Piteira and the venerable Félix Varela, great propagator of love among Cubans and among all men, so that our bonds of peace, solidarity and mutual respect may increase.
Again, thank you very much, Mr President.

Notes
1 José Martí: «The Monetary Conference of the Republics of America», Works chosen, t. II, Havana, 1992, p. 505.
2 St. John Paul II: Address at the arrival ceremony, 21 January 1998, 5.
3 José Martí: Ob. cit., p. 505.

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