The Pope met on Sunday with young Cubans at the Felix Varela Cultural Center in Old Havana.
Vicente Morin Aguado
HAVANA TIMES — The best part of Pope Francis’ visit to Havana took place near nightfall, when the planned gathering with young people was held. Speaking on behalf of those present, a university student greeted the pontiff with the following words: “Cuba needs profound reforms, so that it may one day become the home all Cubans want, regardless of what they think and where they live.”
Luckily, the gathering was arranged in such a way as to allow for a live broadcast of the event, though Cuba’s State media later censored the exceptional exchange between the hundreds of people present and His Holiness, spurred on by the overflowing enthusiasm of young Catholics, convened at precisely the same place where, two centuries before, Felix Varela taught the foundational tenets of freedom.
The Pope took note of the youthful enthusiasm and, taking the floor, offered a short but eloquent response: “Cultivate friendship in society, far from religious or ideological cloisters. If you want to go far, move forward together. Promote a culture of understanding and exchange. Social enmity and misunderstanding destroys the family, the country and the entire world.”
A chorus of voices erupted from the crowd: “If they let us! Let us hope they let us!”
Two young people replied to the Pope’s invitation. A young woman said: “The Pope is here today. Tomorrow, he goes away and hope goes away with him.” A young man retorted: “We have to struggle for hope. Pope Francis said it. Hope endures pain, strives and yields fruit. We won’t give up!”
Making slight modifications suited to the new context, the congregation of young people sang ditties from times past, typical of the days in which members of the Young Communists League were frequently mobilized in the country:
“One, two and three, how cool, one two three, how cool Pope Francis is!”
A more original verse went as follows: “Flowers, flowers, there comes Pope Francis sowing blessings.”
Young Catholics had been singing and enlivening the afternoon since their long wait before the Sagrado Corazon y San Ignacio de Loyola church on Havana’s Reina Street, where the Pope had made a stop to greet his Jesuit brothers.
Francis spent only a few minutes in the gothic temple, a preamble to his enthusiastic remarks in Old Havana. He made a brief stop before a number of message boards installed inside the church the day before. These were covered with hundreds of petitions written by Cubans and must have made a deep impression on him:
“Peace and reconciliation within families.” “Better paid work.” “Traveling to another country.” “Thanks for the pardon, but it is not enough. There are many more in prison demanding justice.”
It was neither the time nor place to read the people’s heartfelt petitions. At any rate, it was more productive to listen to the direct demands of young Catholics, coming straight from the high echelons of the Roman Apostolic Church.