In Cuba, Pope Cites Marriage’s Value to Society
“God has entrusted to the family founded on matrimony the most lofty mission of being the fundamental cell of society and an authentic domestic church,” Pope Benedict XVI said in his homily March 26 during a Mass in Cuba’s second largest city, Santiago de Cuba.
The Mass was celebrated in Antonio Maceo Revolution Square, which church officials said holds 200,000 people. The square reportedly was full, and Cuba’s President Raul Castro, brother of Fidel Castro, was seated in the front row during the Mass.
Pope Benedict’s comments that day on the importance of marriage and the family helped to highlight a theme of his March 26-28 visit to the communist island nation: human dignity. He focused on Christ’s incarnation, “in which God draws near to us” and “shows us the incomparable dignity of every human life.”
When couples recognize with “certainty” that the family’s lofty role makes it not only society’s “fundamental cell,” but also “an authentic domestic church,” they also see that they “are called to be, especially for [their] children, a real and visible sign of the love of Christ for the church,” Pope Benedict said.
In addition, he told husbands and wives that Cuba, as a nation, will benefit from their faithfulness to each other, their unity and their “capacity to welcome human life, especially that of the weakest and most needy.”
That observation reflected yet another message Pope Benedict delivered in Cuba — that the church’s values pose no threat to the nation but, instead, will serve to build it up.
Religious Liberty Aids Society
During a March 28 Mass in Havana, Cuba’s capital, Pope Benedict called attention to the ways religious freedom benefits society as a whole. He said that “both in its private and in its public dimensions,” religious freedom “manifests the unity of the human person, who is at once a citizen and a believer.”
Religious freedom “also legitimizes the fact that believers have a contribution to make to the building up of society,” he said.
In Cuba, Pope Benedict acknowledged progress made in religious freedom since the time of Blessed John Paul II’s visit there in 1998. At the same time, Pope Benedict urged the nation’s leaders to continue further along this path, recognizing the benefits of religious liberty to society.
President Castro again was present during the Havana Mass when the pope explained that “the church lives to make others sharers in the one thing she possesses, which is none other than Christ.” To carry out this duty, the church “must count on basic religious freedom,” he said.
The message about marriage and the family that Pope Benedict delivered in Santiago de Cuba is familiar in many parts of the world. He proclaims repeatedly that societies need to see the love and commitment spouses make to each other; people today need to know that these qualities remain possible in marriage.
Of course, a reason this message of the pope grows more familiar worldwide is that the church’s communications media freely report it. However, Cuba still limits Catholic access to state media, though after Blessed John Paul II’s visit 14 years ago the government did allow the church some access to media, Catholic News Service reported.
Did the pope’s accent on the dignity and value of marriage seem unfamiliar or dissonant in Cuba, where the church lacks full access to the communications media and where the divorce rate tripled over the course of four decades? In 2009, the rate was 64 divorces per 100 marriages, the University of Havana reported.
Moreover, while the church estimates that 60 percent to 70 percent of Cubans are Catholic, church officials also estimate that only some 2.5 percent of the nation’s people are practicing Catholics.
When Pope Benedict XVI met March 27 with President Castro, he urged greater freedoms for the church. Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, explained that when the pope expresses hope that the church will be able to express itself in additional ways, one of those ways is through greater access to the media.
The family’s dignity was highlighted not only in Pope Benedict’s Santiago de Cuba homily but during an airport arrival ceremony that same day. During present times of economic difficulty around the world, he said “the ambition and selfishness of certain powers” has taken “little account of the true good of individuals and families.”
Real progress now requires “an ethics that focuses on the human person and takes account of the most profound human needs,” the pope commented.
The belief is gaining ground, he suggested, that society’s rebirth “demands upright men and women of firm moral convictions, with noble and strong values who will not be manipulated by dubious interests and who are respectful of the unchanging and transcendent nature of the human person.”