On Pope Francis’ last, full day in Cuba, a message of change

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Patrizia Mazzei and Daniel Chang (Miami Herald) reported today on Pope Francis’ last, full day in Cuba, suggesting that the pontiff was encouraged the government, as well as the faithful, to embrace change by speaking of St. Matthew, whose story is one of spiritual conversion.

The man whose unassuming personality has transformed the papacy arrived Monday in a corner of Cuba that had never seen a pope and urged the faithful — and, perhaps, their political leaders — to embrace change. Pope Francis stuck to religion as he celebrated Mass at Holguín’s Plaza de la Revolución. But Monday was the Feast of St. Matthew, whose story is one of spiritual conversion. And so, like many things the pontiff has said while in Cuba, Francis’ pastoral message took on a broader meaning.

He spoke of Matthew, a despised and traitorous tax collector for the Romans who abandoned that life to follow Jesus. Francis urged Cubans to “slowly overcome our preconceptions and our reluctance to think that others, much less ourselves, can change.”

“Do you believe it possible that a traitor can become a friend?” the pope said, looking out at thousands of people congregated in the plaza. Sitting in the front row: Cuban leader Raúl Castro.

After the Mass, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, told reporters the pope’s homily was chiefly aimed at individual hearts and minds: “Each one of us has to start to change.” But, Lombardi conceded, “His speeches always have many dimensions.”

Those were the dimensions that seemed to interest many of the people from Holguín, for whom Francis is inseparable from normalized diplomatic U.S.-Cuba relations and a larger role for the Roman Catholic Church in Cuba. “He spoke of the reconciliation between the church and the government,” asserted Ernesto Parra, 43, who now lives in Miami but traveled home to Holguín for the pope’s visit. “I liked that.”

The government, though, still arrested at least five opposition activists who tried to attend the Mass, according to Unión Patriótica de Cuba (Patriotic Cuban Union), or UNPACU.

“Almost always the regime does whatever it takes to make it impossible for us to get close to the pope,” said Yriade Hernández, the group’s national coordinator. “All we want to talk with him about is the lack of liberty and the political prisoners on the island.”

[. . .] Reporters again pressed Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, about the detained Havana dissidents, who said Francis had telephoned asking to see them. Again, Lombardi said a meeting with dissidents was not on the pope’s agenda.

[. . .] In his homily, Francis lamented that religious freedom remains elusive in Cuba, where Catholics can worship but can’t have their own schools or radio stations. “I know the struggles of the church in Cuba,” Francis said. He praised Casa Misiones, the estimated 2,600 “mission houses” that, given a shortage of churches and priests on the island, provide a place for people to pray and practice their faith. “They are small signs of God’s presence in our neighborhoods.” [. . .]

For full article, see http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article35928477.html

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