Thursday, February 21, 2008

In Cuba, Bertone Tells Bishops to Pray

As previously noted, the Secretary of State spent the first day of his weeklong Tour de Cuba meeting with the island's bishops to deliver both a message of his own and another from Pope Benedict.

In a sign of its importance, the latter was published on the front page of the Vatican daily L'Osservatore Romano under the pontiff's coat of arms.

First, from B16's letter (fulltext):
The proclamation of the Gospel of Christ continues to find hearts in Cuba that are ready to welcome it. This fact carries with it a constant responsibility to help them to grow in the spiritual life, proposing to them this "high standard of ordinary Christian living" ("Novo Millennio Ineunte," No. 31) that is proper to the vocation to holiness of all baptized persons. To announce true doctrine, to begin listening to and deepening one's understanding of the word of God, to promote participation in the sacraments and foster a life of prayer are primary goals of pastoral action. Bringing to all the salvation of Christ is the nucleus of the mission of the Church.

On occasion, some Christian communities are overwhelmed by the difficulties, due to scarcity of resources, indifference or even misgivings, that can lead to discouragement. In these cases, the good disciple will be comforted by the words of the Master: "Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12:32). The believer knows that he can always put his hope in Jesus Christ, our Lord, who does not disappoint (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:3) and overcomes your heart with joy (cf. 1 Peter 1:6), giving sense and fruitfulness to your life of faith.

In effect, a little light can illuminate the entire house, a small amount of yeast can raise a large portion of dough (cf. Matthew 13:33). How many times small gestures of friendship and good will, simple and daily gestures of respect, attention to the one who suffers or gives unselfishly for the good of others, reveals a glimpse of the limitless love that God has for all and each one.

For this the mission of the Church in Cuba in favor of those in need acquires a great importance, with specific works of service and attention to the men and women of all walks of life, that deserve to be sustained not only in their material needs, but welcomed with affection and understanding. The Pope deeply thanks the effort and sacrifice of the people and communities given over to these works, following the example of Christ, who "did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45).

Dear Brothers, you have in your hands the care of the vine of the Lord in Cuba, where the proclamation of the Gospel arrived five centuries ago, and whose values had a great influence in the birth of the nation, the work of Servant of God Félix Varela and the propagandist of the love of God among Cubans and all men, José Martí. These values are a vital element for the concord and happy future of the nation.

This inheritance has pierced the Cuban soul, that today needs your generous pastoral care to revive it, showing that the Church, centered in the gaze of Jesus Christ, does good, promotes the dignity of the person, and, sewing seeds of understanding, mercy and reconciliation, contributes to the betterment of man and of society.
...and from the vice-papal pep-talk (fulltext):
I give thanks to God for the opportunity he gives me of being able to be here with all of you, in a special way, in this moment in which the Church in Cuba celebrates the 10th anniversary of the unforgettable visit of Pope John Paul II to this country. I am fully convinced that this anniversary event will also be a time of abundant grace and a privileged opportunity to boost the intense pastoral work which, on one hand, will permit the consolidation of the spiritual fruits harvested during these years, and on the other, produce a deep renewal of Christian life among the people of God who inhabit this beautiful land.

I encourage you, then, dear brother bishops, to intensify even more, if possible, the pastoral labor that you are doing with such dedication and determination. Allow me to remind you of something that you, as devoted pastors, already know well: the importance and primacy of place that, both in our personal lives and in our episcopal ministry, we should give to prayer and intimate contact with the Lord in the spiritual life. We know as well that bishops, in their ministry, have to attend to many obligations, schedule numerous activities and deal with multiple necessities. Nevertheless, as Pope Benedict XVI has said, "[B]ut the first place in the life of a successor of the Apostles must be kept for God. Especially in this way will we help our faithful" (address to the bishops ordained during the past year, Sept. 22, 2007). In this way, all of our pastoral action at the service of the faithful and the Church will be truly fruitful (cf. John Paul II, "Pastores Gregis," No. 12), because in the intimacy of prayer with Christ, the best projects and pastoral initiatives mature, and [it is there] that the heart fills itself with trust and strength in the face of difficulties, with the certainty that it is the Lord who acts in us and through us.

I also encourage you to continue strengthening the spirit of communion among all the bishops, as members of the Apostolic College, and with the Pope. All of you should feel that you are accompanied and sustained by your brothers in the episcopate, as a concrete manifestation of this collegial affection that unites us (ibid., No. 8), and by the union with the Successor of Peter, who was entrusted with confirming the faith of his brothers (cf. Luke 22:32). I can assure you of the interest and the support of the Holy Father for each one of you. Indeed, the testimony of fraternal charity and unity among the bishops will be, without a doubt, the best mirror in which the faithful can see reflected the mystery of unity that is the Church.

This spirit of communion must take in the entire Christian community, especially through the close and constant work of the priests and consecrated persons, who with their ministry and consecration, collaborate closely with the mission of the pastors. In regard to them there corresponds then, a binding task of concerning yourselves with their initial and ongoing formation, and attending them with solicitude in everything that refers to their spiritual life and their apostolic efforts, without neglecting the personal and environmental aspects that can influence in the joyful and abnegated carrying out of their work.

Moreover, in Cuba, it is tangibly evident the truth of Christ's words, "The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest" (Matthew 9:37-28): A prayer that should be accompanied by a serious vocation ministry, systematic and detailed, which makes the call to an unconditional surrender to the Lord and his kingdom of love reach to the heart of young Cubans, which accompanies them with patience, thoughtfulness and solicitude in all the stages of vocational discernment, and which shows families and Christian communities the beauty of a life totally dedicated to Christ and the Church.

I cherish the hope that the celebration of this anniversary of Pope John Paul II's visit to this blessed land contributes to giving new strength to the relationship between the state and the Catholic Church in Cuba, so that in a spirit of respect and mutual understanding, the Church can fully carry out her mission, strictly pastoral and at the service of the faithful, with due freedom.
In the presence of Ricardo Alarcon, president of the Communist country's National Assembly, Bertone celebrated an evening liturgy (above) before a packed Cathedral Square in Havana.

PHOTOS: AP/Javier Galeano (1-3)