Pope Francis warmly approached many of the over 300,000 people who gathered at the Revolution Square in Havana to attend mass on Sunday morning.
“Despite the wounds they have suffered, the Cuban people keep their arms open to hope,” said the Pope in his sermon, which was broadcasted live on national television and radio stations.
“We don’t serve ideologies, we serve people,” he said, adding that true greatness can only be attained putting oneself at the service of others.
The people in attendance were not only there to see the highest representative of the Catholic Church, but also to show their respects to the man who played an essential role in the recent changes that have taken place on the island nation, namely, the rapprochement between Cuba and the United States.
“Thank you for visiting our country,” Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega told the Pope in his public address. “Thank you for sowing interest in our numb minds, too used to mediocrity. Thank you for these new winds of hope, and for supporting the process of reestablishment of relations with the United States. May your call on peace reach not only the highest political hierarchies in both countries, but also the two peoples.”
“Every visit by a pope to Cuba has been an occasion to improve the links between the Church and churchgoers and the government,” said Maritza, a Cuban catholic who never though she would be able to see three popes visit the island on her lifetime.
She came to the Revolution Square as early as 4:00 a.m. along with a group of fellow Christians to see Pope Francis.
Arminda, a 64 year-old member of the Saint Louis Parrish congregation, said that she hopes this visit opens a new path towards a future in which Cuban families no longer be divided by political and religious differences.
“We believe in the possibility to reunite families, and in a world in which the family becomes once again the center of our children’s education, not only as Catholics, but as better human beings in general,” she said.
By the end of the sermon, Pope Francis spoke highly of Cuba’s role in the peace negotiations in Colombia, and said that the blood shed by thousands of innocent victims should be a good enough reason to strive for a definitive reconciliation between the parties in conflict.
The ceremony in Havana was not only attended by Catholics, but also by people who practice other religions.
Maikel, who practices Santeria, an Afro-Cuban religion, said that this was a historic moment worth seeing, independently of one’s personal beliefs. “I like to learn from other religions. This is a historic day, and that’s why I’m here: to give my support to the Pope. I share the enormous emotion I see here in my brothers,” he said.
“I think it’s important that the Church and young people are involved in moments like this,” said another man, “so that the Church can have an influence in the future of Cuban, helping improve the lives of people from Latin America and the lives of all those who suffer in any part of the world.”
“We cannot stop now. We have to grow together,” he added. “I hope the Pope can touch the hearts of Cubans with his message of peace and reconciliation.”
That was the spirit at the Revolution Square today: a heterogeneous mass of believers and atheists, of Party members summoned by their leaders, of young Catholics and followers of other faiths, and of young people convinced that the greatest of all religions is love.