This upcoming year will be referred to by Catholics as “The Year of Faith.” From St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Benedict XVI announced his intention to travel to several countries, with the first ones named being Mexico and Cuba, which he plans to visit in the spring of 2012.
As part of the “Evangelization” being carried out by the highest office in the Vatican, the island will be visited by the supreme pontiff, which will make him the second pope to do so, following John Paul II’s 1998 visit.
Numerous celebrations will take place throughout 2012 in Catholic churches across the country as that year will mark the 400th year since the appearance in the Bay of Nipe of the Virgen de la Caridad — the patron saint of the country — which is worshiped at the shrine erected in its name in the town of El Cobre, in the eastern province of Santiago de Cuba.
Catholicism, which is also the most widespread denomination of Christianity observed in Cuba, will receive the praises of its parishioners with the arrival of the Pope to bless their land, their children, the Virgin and the Cuban Catholic Church.
It’s too early to know the details of the agenda of this papal visit, but religious believers hope the visit will extend over several cities. This was what was done during the preceding visit by John Paul II over his five days on the island, beginning on January 21, 1998, in which he held masses in four provinces.
The speeches and homilies delivered back then became historic acts of encouragement and comfort for the faith of the Cuban people, who were still experiencing the aftermath of the difficult years of the Special Period crisis of that decade.
At that time there was some suspicion about possible fears on the part of Cuban authorities over the visit by the Holy Father, but all were dispelled when he was received with full honors by the island’s president, who also extended a similar invitation to the Papal See.
In the chronicles the journey of His Holiness John Paul II to Cuba, were passages such as: “The Holy Father could finally fulfill a long cherished desire: a pastoral visit to Cuba.”
Excellent communication was established between the Pope and Cuban President Fidel Castro, who in turn was also received in the Vatican with no less attention. After the death of John Paul II (born Karol Jozef Wojtyla and Pope # 264) in the Vatican City on April 2, 2005, three days of national mourning were declared here on the island and a mass was held in his name, which was attended by the president and all senior leaders of the Council of State and Ministers.
That first visit by a pope to Cuba was the highlight in the reconciliation between the Catholic Church and the state, entities that had held widely different positions for a long time.
Now President Raul Castro will welcome Benedict XVI to Cuba. The second papal visit should be a pillar for peace to reign among Cubans, beyond ideologies and beliefs.