September 28, 2015

SANTIAGO, CUBA - A key task of a traveling pope is to confirm his brothers and sisters in the faith. For Pope Francis in Cuba, that ministry took on added importance as Cuba and its people stand on the threshold of potentially epochal change.

Many people inside and outside Cuba hope that normalized U.S.-Cuban relations will lead to greater communication, trade and exchanges between the two countries. They also hope those experiences will lead to more freedom and democracy on the Caribbean island.

The immediate experience of some former Soviet-bloc countries in their move toward democracy 25 years ago showed openness leads to change and not all of it good, with a rise in consumerism,

corruption and a loss of a sense of struggling together for the common good.

During his first-ever visit to Cuba, Pope Francis called for greater freedom and respect for human dignity in the country. But he also continually added his hope that the Cuban people would love their country, hold on to their tradition of caring for society's weakest members and would not lose a sense of pride in being Cuban.


Leonardo Fernandez, a Catholic and a member of the government-affiliated federation of university students, asked Pope Francis in Havana for words to "renew in us the hope that we can grow, study, work, walk and be happy in this complex reality in which we are living.

"Help us, Holy Father, to be young people who know how to welcome and accept those who think differently" and to avoid the "great evils" of individualism and indifference.

Young Cubans, he said, need to "interpret the signs of our times and take hands to build a Cuba, as our national hero José Martí said, 'with all and for the good of all.'"

Pope Francis responded by explaining "what gives hope to a people" is not simple optimism, but people working together, even when things get tough, to make changes and build something good.

Ideological and even religious "cliques" not only can slow progress, they can sow enmity, he said.

"Social friendship" and "social enmity" are themes Pope Francis has been pondering publicly for weeks and he returned to the notion when he met the youths.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the papal spokesman, told reporters in Holguin Sept. 21 that "social friendship is solidarity with a heart" and a commitment to dialogue and to caring for the smallest members of society.

Pope Francis told the young people to beware of thinking they need to "throw stones at those who are different."

"Why not extend a hand and look for what we have in common," he said.


In Buenos Aires, he said, he watched a new parish build an oratory for the young people. All sorts of people turned out to help.

"I went at the invitation of the pastor and I saw that one of them, who studied architecture, was a communist. Another was a practising Catholic, but they were all working together.

"Social friendship builds," he said, "enmity destroys and the world is destroying itself with war because we do not understand that we have something in common."

Pope Francis asked Cubans to take care of each other. The importance of an individual or of a nation is measured by care for one another.