Thursday evening, January 22, 1998
(Telepone interview by John Bookser Feister)
Q: Father Jack Wintz, you're in Cuba, traveling with the pope. What did you do today?
A: Today the pope had a Mass in the
city of Santa Clara, which is a city of some 200,000 people, about a three-hour drive to
the east of Havana. Our group went there for Mass, which was at 10:30 this morning. Santa
Clara is famous for a memorial of Che Guevara. As you know, Che Guevara was a hero of the
revolution and he happened to win an important battle at Santa Clara, hence the memorial.
The Mass took place in a large athletic field in
Santa Clara. There was, as usual, an immense crowd for that occasion. The crowd has been
estimated by a number of people at being over 100,000. There was great enthusiasm for the
pope. The pope's voice, however, when it came to his homily, sounded very weak and shaky.
It almost seemed to be fading to nothing at times.
Yet, as I observed, the crowd generally kept its
enthusiasm until the very end. They even stayed around after the Mass was over,
participating in the music and so forth. The music was bright and bouncy Caribbean music,
the kind of music for which Cuba is famous.
Q: How do you think the people responded to the
pope's message today?
A: Despite the pope's weariness, the people
seemed to see in his message some very strong ideas. One man from Santa Clara who I judged
to be maybe 70 years old spoke a little English. He told me that the pope's words were
very strong and that the pope "opened the minds of the people. We have had a closed
society," he told me. I asked him, "Now do you expect it to be a more open
society?" He nodded very clearly the answer, yes.
During the Mass I had the opportunity to walk
around the crowd, and I noticed that many people were using the programs printed by the
Diocese of Santa Clara. These programs looked something like a missalette. They had the
hymns and prayers. They were very attractively printed, with a picture of the pope and so
forth--very modern. The programs explained who the pope is, had a bit of his biography,
explained why the Mass, the Eucharist, is so central to the Catholic faith. They included
a prayer to Our Lady of Charity. So the booklets became something of a small catechism and
at the same time an aid to prayer.
Q: Our Lady of Charity is important to the Cuban
people. Can you tell us a little about that?
A: The Virgin of Charity, La Virgen de
Caridad, or Our Lady of Charity, is the patron of the island. It's an ancient image
of Mary that's very much revered and that is in a famous church near the city of Santiago
de Cuba. A highlight of the pope's ceremony, gathering for worship and prayer, will be a
crowning of this Virgin of Charity. I'm sure that this is going to mean very much to the
people. It's going to be a very powerful moment--not only a spiritual moment but a kind of
moment in the culture. And I'm sure it's going to have political ramifications.
Q: Father Jack, what stood out for you in the
Mass today? Was there any particular moment that you will remember?
A: I told you about the one man from Santa Clara
who said that the pope's words opened the minds of the people. There was another man, a
doctor from Havana, who is a very active Catholic. He also indicated that the pope's
message--even though delivered with quite a weak voice and with some hesitancy--was very
strong. And then he added that the Church is undergoing many changes in recent years and
especially in recent months as the time of the pope's visit has approached. He said,
"The Church is undergoing many changes, but there is no going back."
Another thing I would like to report on was near
the very end of the ceremony. There was a chant the crowd was chanting over and over again
in the presence of the pope: "Juan Pablo Segundo, Cuba esta contigo!" which,
translated, means, "John Paul II, Cuba is with you!"
I think this is what is happening these days of
the pope's visit. He is finding a tremendous response to his message. The people feel that
their revitalized and growing faith is being confirmed. They are standing by the Holy
Father, who is their spiritual leader.