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Cardinal O'Malley reflects on pope's visit to Cuba


Cuba's flag is seen as Pope Francis arrives to celebrate Mass in Revolution Square in Havana Sept. 20. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

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BOSTON -- Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley spoke with The Pilot, Sept. 20, after Pope Francis celebrated a Mass at Revolution Square -- in Havana.

The cardinal described the scene as Cubans, pilgrims from Boston, and others gathered for the third papal Mass the cardinal has seen in Cuba, but the first since the beginning of the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba.

"Today we had the privilege and the joy to attend Pope Francis' Mass in Havana in the Plaza de la Revolución under the picture of his fellow Argentine Che Guevara. Hundreds of thousands of people from Cuba, and from beyond, gathered with the Holy Father for this great event," Cardinal O'Malley said.

Cardinal O'Malley has travelled to Cuba multiple times over the past thirty years. During that time he saw many changes for the nation and Catholics there. Having seen three papal visits, he said each held great significance in the life of the Church, beginning with the visit of Pope St. John Paul II in 1998, which the cardinal called "a watershed mark" in the history of the Church in Cuba.

"It won for the Church a certain amount of space to be able to once again minister to God's people," he said.

The cardinal said the visit of Pope Benedict further opened doors for the Church in Cuba.

"Catholics would be allowed to celebrate Christmas again," he said.

He called Pope Francis' visit after the beginning of the normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba "an extraordinary moment."

"I have never seen the Cuban people exude as much hope and enthusiasm as you see today in Cuba," the cardinal said.

The cardinal said the Mass in Revolution Square was short for a papal Mass, but potent in message and themes of service, compassion, reconciliation, care for each other, and a challenge for people to overcome their own ambitions in order to serve others.

"The comments of Cardinal Ortega were also very beautiful calling for peace and reconciliation. There is a history of great tensions and difficulties, but only through forgiveness and reconciliation will the Cuban people be able to come together again and be at peace with their neighbors," Cardinal O'Malley said.

"The Mass was most moving, and I was so happy to be able to be here with a wonderful group of people from Boston."

Below is the full transcript of Cardinal O'Malley's statement:

Today we had the privilege and the joy to attend Pope Francis' Mass in Havana in the Plaza de la Revolución under the picture of his fellow Argentine "Che" Guevara. Hundreds of thousands of people from Cuba, and from beyond, gathered with the Holy Father for this great event.

I have been coming to Cuba for thirty years, and during that time I have seen many, many changes.

I have been here for three papal visits. All of them have been very significant in the life of the Church here, beginning with the visit of St. John Paul II, which really was a watershed mark in the history of the Church in Cuba. It won for the Church a certain amount of space to be able to once again minister to God's people.

The visit of Pope Benedict was also an important visit, and certain concessions were made. Catholics would be allowed to celebrate Christmas again.

But with Pope Francis' visit, particularly after the beginning of the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba, this has been an extraordinary moment. I have never seen the Cuban people exude as much hope and enthusiasm as you see today in Cuba.

The Mass was by standards of papal Masses short. The Holy Father's message was a very beautiful one, typical of the themes of service, compassion, reconciliation, care for each other, a challenge of people to overcome their own ambitions, to serve others.

The comments of Cardinal Ortega were also very beautiful calling for peace and reconciliation. There is a history of great tensions and difficulties, but only through forgiveness and reconciliation will the Cuban people be able to come together again and be at peace with their neighbors.

And so, it was an extraordinary event. The Mass was most moving, and I was so happy to be able to be here with a wonderful group of people from Boston.

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