Following the Pope in Cuba
Eyewitness Report by Father Jack Wintz

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    Friday  evening, January 23, 1998


    The pope's Mass today was celebrated at La Plaza Ignacio Agramonte in Camaguey, Cuba's third-largest city after Havana and Santiago. The principal guests at this Mass were the youth of Cuba, as well as youth from other countries. Though I was unable to go to Camaguey to attend this Mass, I watched part of it on television [with a group of Cuban Catholics at a local parish]. Remarkably, the Mass was televised live throughout the country.

    It was a powerful event that could potentially make a big impact on the Cuban nation. I was deeply moved as I watched a handsome young Cuban adult give a courageous, eloquent and faith-filled welcome to the pope. "Holy Father," he said, "we know you have suffered. We know you have dealt with pain and suffering. We know that, like us, you have fought the temptation of leading a soft, secular life, and of abandoning Christ. But we are certain that the power of Jesus' resurrection has triumphed in you, as it has in many of us, who are standing here this morning."

    I could not help thinking that his young Cuban, and many others like him, are providing an alternate model for the youth of Cuba today--a model quite different from those who represent only a secular  or Marxist ideology. The spirit at this eucharistic liturgy was full of spirit and youthful activity--youthful electricity. The music and enthusiasm that flowed from this immense demonstration were vibrant. It was a powerful statement regarding the future of Cuba and the rebirth of the Christian faith in this nation.

    I was reminded also that the pope, since the beginning of his pontificate, has cultivated the world's youth. He sees in them a clear symbol of hope for the future. And so it was expressed in Camaguey, Cuba, today.

    There was a very touching moment that I experienced while watching another part of the papal Mass today--at the Catholic Parish of the Miraculous Medal. A large group of people were watching as the frail pope began embracing warmly, at the sign of peace,  the lineup of youth who were approaching him one by one. I watched the Cuban mother of two young Catholic adults brushing tears from her eyes when she saw the affection and affirmation that the pope was communicating to these young Cuban Catholics.

    The high ideals and love which the pope holds towards the youth of Cuba were expressed dramatically in his homily. The pope described the many young people in Cuba today as "victims of cultural models which are empty of meaning or of an ideology that does not offer high and clear moral guidelines." He added later, "Christians sometimes have to suffer marginalization and persecution--at times heroically--because of moral choices that are contrary to the world's behavior."

    At the end of the homily, the aging pope gave to the youth the motto with which he began his pontificate [in 1978]: "'Do not be afraid to open your hearts to Christ.' With great affection I leave you this motto and exhortation, asking you to pass it on with boldness to the rest of Cuba's youth."

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