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  • At final Mass in Cuba, pope calls for ‘revolution of tenderness’

    On the final day of his visit to Cuba, Pope Francis continued to promote his vision of a church that gets out of the sacristy and into people’s lives.

    Celebrating Mass today at Cuba’s popular Shrine of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre in Santiago, the pope said Mary offered a perfect example of faith in action, a response to God’s call to move out of one’s comfort zone.

    “God’s presence in our lives never leaves us tranquil: it always pushes to do something. When God comes, he always calls us out of our house,” the pope said.

    “We are asked to live the revolution of tenderness as Mary, our Mother of Charity, did. We are invited to ‘leave home’ and to open our eyes and hearts to others,” he said. “Our revolution comes about through tenderness, through the joy which always becomes closeness and compassion, and leads us to get involved in, and to serve, the life of others.”

    Faith calls Christians to visit the sick, the imprisoned and the suffering, as well as to “laugh with those who laugh, and rejoice with our neighbors who rejoice,” the pope said. The church needs to go forth from its chapels and sacristies “to build bridges, to break down walls, to sow seeds of reconciliation.”

    This, of course, has been a strong theme of Francis’ pontificate from Day 1.

    In Cuba, the pope seemed much more intent on rallying Christians to live their faith fully than critiquing the government on religious freedom issues. We’ll see if that changes in his final encounter before boarding a plane for Washington this afternoon.

    UPDATE: Weakening of family ties leads to broken societies, pope tells Cubans

    Pope Francis ended his trip to Cuba with a reflection on the state of the family, warning that the weakening of traditional family bonds leads to societies that are divided, broken or “rigidly uniform.”

    The pope spoke at an encounter in Santiago with thousands of Cuban families, who packed the city’s cathedral. He moved slowly but smiled as he greeted the crowd on the fourth day of a 10-day trip that would take him to the United States later in the day.

    The pope, who will preside over a World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia and a second session of the Synod of Bishops on the family in October, said it is in the home where people learn to get along, to help each other and to forgive. The shared experiences and spaces of family life are essential for healthy societies, he said.

    “In many cultures today, these spaces are shrinking, these experiences of family are disappearing, and everything is slowly breaking up, growing apart. We have fewer moments in common, to stay together, to stay at home as a family,” he said.

    “As a result, we don’t know how to be patient, we don’t know how to ask permission or forgiveness, or even to say ‘thank you,’ because our homes are growing empty. Empty of relationships, empty of contacts, empty of encounters.”

    The pope said this leads to a weakening of the networks that sustain society.

    “The family saves us from two present-day phenomena: fragmentation (division) and uniformity. In both cases, people turn into isolated individuals, easy to manipulate and to rule. Societies which are divided, broken, separated or rigidly uniform are a result of the breakup of family bonds,” he said.

    After the meeting, the pope gave an impromptu blessing to a cheering crowd gathered outside the cathedral, telling them: “Thank you. You make me feel like I’m at home.”


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  • Poverty and mercy: key themes in Cuba

    In Cuba, Pope Francis has not said much about church-state political questions. Instead he is diving deeply into his call for a church that is poor, merciful and forgiving.

    His talks Sunday and Monday have been fascinating, and at times pure Francis – his off-the-cuff riff on “poverty” in an encounter with church ministry personnel was classic.

    But if the pope uses the same language when he comes to the United States, he’s likely to need an official explainer. I’m not sure most people will understand what he means by evangelical poverty and the idea that “wealth makes people poor.”

    “How many souls have been destroyed! Generous souls … that began well and then became attached to that rich worldliness, and ended up badly. In other words, mediocre. They ended up without love,” he told priests, nuns and seminarians Sunday evening.

    “The spirit of poverty, the spirit of detachment, the spirit of leaving everything to follow Jesus. This leaving everything is not something I made up. It’s found various times in the Gospel. In the call of the first ones, who left their boat, their nets and followed him. Those who left everything to follow Jesus,” he said.

    The church, too, has to resist the temptation to accumulate wealth. “Bad accountants are among the best blessings for the church, because they make it free, they make it poor,” he said.

    He echoed that message when talking a little later with young people, saying youths today are “part of the throwaway culture.”

    “All of us know that today, in this empire of the god money, things are thrown away and people are thrown away, children are thrown away, because they are unwanted, because they kill them before they are born, the elderly are thrown away — I’m speaking of the world in general — because they don’t produce anymore. In some countries, there is legal euthanasia, but in so many others there is a hidden, covered up euthanasia. Youth are thrown away because they are not given work.”

    When it comes to the role of the church, the pope emphasized closeness to the people, especially those who are suffering and who need forgiveness. Priests in particular, he said, need to seek out the hungry, the imprisoned and the sick, and make the confessional a place of mercy.

    When someone confesses their weaknesses, the pope told priests, “don’t yell at them, don’t punish them, don’t castigate them. If you have no sin, then you can throw the first stone.” He added: “Please, do not tire of forgiving. Be forgivers. Do not hide behind fear and rigidity.”

    At a Mass Monday in Holguin, Cuba’s third-largest city, Pope Francis returned to the theme of mercy and its capacity to change people. He said Christ’s calling of St. Matthew, a tax collector who became his disciple, showed this transformative power.

    “Matthew is no longer the same; he is changed inside,” he said. “He leaves behind his table, his money, his exclusion. Before, he had sat waiting to collect his taxes, to take from others; now, with Jesus he must get up and give, give himself to others.”

    The church’s attention should be directed especially toward those who feel excluded or abandoned, the pope said.

    “May we learn to see them as Jesus sees us. Let us share his tenderness and mercy with the sick, prisoners, the elderly and families in difficulty.”

    In Havana, the pope also had some interesting words on the concept of church unity. They were part of the text he set aside in his meeting with priests and nuns, but the Vatican published them on its web site.

    Unity is not uniformity, he said, and can never be imposed or forced by decree. On the contrary, it depends at times on open expression of disagreement.

    “Conflicts and disagreements in the church are to be expected and, I would even say, needed. They are a sign that the church is alive and that the Spirit is still acting, still enlivening her. Woe to those communities without a 'yes' and a 'no'! They are like married couples who no longer argue, because they have lost interest, they have lost their love."

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  • "We do not serve ideas, we serve people."

    Celebrating his first Mass in Cuba, Pope Francis delivered an interesting homily today that highlighted a couple of key themes of his pontificate.

    He focused first on service to others as the fundamental expression of Christianity. This service is never about self-promotion and never merely about setting up programs, the pope said, but involves encountering real people in their suffering.

    “Service always looks to their faces, touches their flesh,” he said. “Service is never ideological, for we do not serve ideas, we serve people.” He was speaking about the Christian approach to life, and his words carried wider meaning in a country that recently began "restructuring" its socialist policies.

    The pope’s second point was the temptation to engage in “service that is self-serving,” or that helps only “our people.” This is a process of exclusion that’s often based on judging others before assisting them, he said.

    I think we’re going to hear a lot about exclusion during this trip, both in Cuba and in the United States. Most of the pope’s critique of the dominant global economic system, for example, is centered on the fact that it excludes so many people from opportunities reserved for the privileged.

    Pope Francis’ homily in Revolution Square was far less political than those delivered by his two predecessors. In 1998, Pope John Paul II bluntly appealed for “great change” in Cuba and urged greater respect for religious and other human rights. In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI issued a similar call.

    Pope Francis stayed away from direct criticism of Cuba’s government and its continuing restrictions on church activities. Perhaps he is saving that for private talks with government leaders, or for other events.

    The pope seemed more intent on explaining how Christians express their faith as citizens, primarily by fighting for human dignity and helping those most in need: “That is why Christians are constantly called to set aside their own wishes and desires, their pursuit of power, and to look instead to those who are most vulnerable.”

    He was, of course, speaking mainly to a Catholic audience at the liturgy. But in attendance was Cuban President Raul Castro and other government officials, and the pope’s closing remarks, which praised and challenged Cuba’s people, seemed aimed at them as well.

    “It is a people that has its wounds, like every other people, yet knows how to stand up with open arms, to keep walking in hope, because it has a vocation of grandeur,” he said.

    He urged Cubans to continue to care for the weakest in society, adding: “Do not neglect them for plans which can be seductive, but are unconcerned about the face of the person beside you.”

     


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