Saturday night, January 24, 1998
The pope's Mass today was celebrated in Santiago de Cuba, the country's original capital
and its second-largest city. The crowds attending the pope's Masses grow larger every day.
Some estimated today's crowd at 300,000, others at half a million.
The celebration focused upon the Virgin of
Charity--the patron saint of Cuba--and on the homeland itself. "It was an
interweaving of religion and patriotism," I was told after Mass by Thomas Quigley, a
special adviser on Latin American affairs for the U.S. Catholic bishops.
A coronation ceremony took place after the pope's
homily and the profession of faith. Pope John Paul II placed a crown on the head of the
Virgin of Charity, and upon the infant Jesus in her arms. The image was present near the
altar during the Mass.
The famous image, which is normally kept in the
church at Cobre, outside Santiago, is Cuba's most sacred religious symbol. Aside from
one's view of the theological role of the Mother of Jesus in the Catholic Church after the
Second Vatican Council, what was happening today in Santiago, Cuba, had great spiritual,
cultural and political significance.
The crowning of the Virgin of Charity by the pope
was a reclaiming of Cuba's Catholic identity. The ceremony was a public embracing of this
traditional Catholic image so loved by the Cuban Catholics. In a public plaza, before the
eyes of hundreds of thousands of Cubans, this symbol of Catholic identity was being
crowned by no one less than the pope himself.
Cuba was reclaiming its Catholic identity not
only on a large, national stage, but through the miracle of worldwide television, on the
international stage as well.