The Pope's message, dated December 20, indicated his hopes that his visit to Cuba-- the only nation in the Western hemisphere which he has not already visited-- would both signal and produce more lasting changes. "I hope that after my visit, the Church-- which has been able to make a public witness to her faith in Christ and her commitment to the cause of man in communion with the successor to the apostle Peter, may continue always to enjoy the advantages of the freedom necessary for her mission, and adequate opportunities to work for the common good, and that thus she will continue to serve the Cuban people."
The Pope urged the Cuban faithful to open their hearts to Christ. The Lord comes to "confirm you in faith," he said-- a faith which has often been tested and proven-- and to bring "a message of truth and of hope."
However, the Holy Father's address was not directed solely at Cuban Catholics. As he put it, "my appeal is addressed to everyone, without distinction of creed, ideology, race, political opinion, or economic situation." He called on all people to serve others, particularly those in need.
As for the feast of Christmas, the Pope pointed out that the celebration is deeply rooted in Cuban culture and history. At the traditional midnight Mass, he said, entire families come together, "joyful to see the light and the peace which comes from heaven and lightens the way for all people." The birth of Christ, he continued, is "the most radical and profound change which humanity has ever known," and that is way all years are now figured from the time of the Incarnation.
On Saturday, December 20, the Pope played host to members of the Polish community in Rome, after the ceremony in St. Peter's Square for the lighting of a Christmas tree imported from Zakopane, Poland. Each year of his pontificate, the Pope has made some time to meet with his fellow Poles at Christmas time, and this year's group included the Archbishop of Krakow, Cardinal Franciscek Macharski, and the American-born cardinal of Polish extraction, Edmund Szoka.
The Pope said that the traditional customs used in Poland, such as the setting of the table for an unknown guest, "carry a great significance. They symbolize the wealth of the human heart which sees in another man-- especially one who is in need-- the presence of Christ." Such gestures, he said, should have an effect that lasts throughout the year, recalling Christians to their baptismal duties.
About half of the songs at the Tuesday concert at Highland High School referred directly to Christ or Christianity. Officials said none of the songs referred to any other religion. Frank Rotolo said he was not told why he was suspended Friday and didn't know if it was with or without pay. "Right now, we're in limbo," he said.
School district spokesman Rick Murray said he couldn't comment on a personnel matter, but said Rotolo was told several weeks earlier that school officials were concerned about the concert's content. Rotolo said he had made several changes to the 90-minute program, including changing the title from "A Christmas Concert" to "A Winter Concert."