Pope reviews trip to Mexico, Cuba, says religious freedom is needed
VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI said that during his recent journey to Mexico and Cuba, he experienced "unforgettable days of joy and hope."
While he went as "a witness of Jesus Christ," it was also an opportune occasion to call for reform, especially in allowing greater religious freedom, he said.
At his weekly general audience April 4 in St. Peter's Square, the pope told an estimated 11,000 pilgrims and visitors about his March 23-28 visit.
Pictured: People wave to Pope Benedict XVI as he arrives to lead his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican April 4. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
"I reminded everyone that Cuba and the world need change," he said.
However, real change will come about "only if everyone opens up to the whole truth about mankind -- a binding requirement in order to achieve liberty -- and decides to cultivate in their lives reconciliation and brotherhood, building their life on Jesus Christ," he said.
Only Jesus "can dispel the darkness of error, helping us conquer evil and all that oppresses us," the pope said.
The church does not seek to secure any special privileges for itself, he said, just the freedom to be able to preach and celebrate one's faith even in the public sphere and "bring the Gospel message of hope and peace to every part of society."
He said he appreciated all that has been done up to now by Cuban authorities but that he emphasized it was necessary to continue on this path of allowing "ever fuller religious freedom."
Such progress, he said, will require "an effort of sincere collaboration and patient dialogue for the good of the country."
His visit to Cuba was also meant as a sign of support for the mission of the church there: "to proclaim the Gospel with joy despite the lack of means and difficulties still left to overcome so that religion may carry out its spiritual and educative service in the public realm," he said.
He said he wanted to assure the people there that "the pope carries in his heart the worries and hopes of all Cubans, especially those who suffer because of restrictions on freedom."
Pope Benedict said his goal of the trip had been to offer courage and hope to the church in all of Latin America.
He repeated the importance of religious freedom, he said, because "when God is excluded, the world turns into an inhospitable place for mankind."
He recalled the joy and enthusiasm of the people who welcomed him and the show of faith at many of the liturgical events.
"I encouraged the Mexican people to let their deep Christian roots inspire their efforts to overcome violence and to work for a better future," he said.
And in Cuba, "I prayed for a rebirth of faith, openness to God's love and respect for the truth about our human dignity and freedom revealed in Christ," he said.
Among those at the audience were about 3,000 students from more than 200 universities all over the world participating in the Opus Dei-run UNIV conference.
The pope told the students he hoped their pilgrimage to Rome would "bear spiritual fruit in a deeper love of Christ and his church."
Representatives of the UNIV forum were to give the pope a letter, written on behalf of the conference participants, thanking the pope for traveling to Latin America.
"Thank you for having transmitted your courage and optimism to the people of our generation," the letter said. "Thank you for that youthful spirit which leads you to undertake trips like these to bring the person of Christ closer to us."
— Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service