Pope John Paul responded to Castro's address with a strong message of his own, emphasizing the need to expand religious freedom in Cuba, and calling on the nation's Catholics to bring the message of the Gospel into their society. The Pope's entire address was broadcast by Cuban state television-- as was the entirety of Castro's welcoming message.

      The Pope said that he was delighted "to be among you and be able to share a journeys full of faith, hope and love." Cuba is the only nation in the Western hemisphere which he had not previously visited.

      After greeting Castro, Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino of Havana, and the various other bishops-- both from Cuba and from other lands-- who were on hand, the Pope said, "My heart opens with great affection to the beloved priests, deacons, men and women religious, catechists, and faithful." He continued: "In all of them I see the image of this local Church, so beloved and always present in my heart, feeling myself in solidarity and close to their aspirations and legitimate desires."

      "With this apostolic trip I come in the name of the Lord to confirm you in the faith, strengthen you in hope, and encourage you in charity," the Pope said. He encouraged the faithful to work boldly in the cause of evangelization: "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, you must want him to enter your lives, your families, into the society, so everything may be renovated."

      In an indirect response to Castro's criticism, the Pope alluded to the difficulties the Church has faced under the Communist regime. He praised the Church in Cuba "which has always announced Jesus Christ, even if in occasions she has been forced to do so with a shortage of priests and in difficult circumstances."

      And the Pope added a plea for greater freedom: "Today, as always, the Church in Cuba wants to have the space needed to keep serving to all in conformity with the mission and the teachings of Jesus Christ."

      The Pope closed his message, which was significantly shorter than Castro's, by promising his prayers so "this land may offer to all the opportunity to enjoy freedom, mutual confidence, social justice by true peace. May Cuba open itself, with all its magnificent possibilities, to the world, and may the world open itself to Cuba."

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January 23-25, 1998 volume 9, no. 17          DAILY CATHOLIC