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Cardinal O'Malley says Cuba pilgrimage was an 'unforgettable experience'


A Cuban Catholic man poses beside one of the many posters around Havana welcoming Pope Francis, Sept. 19. Pilot photo / Gregory L. Tracy

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ABOARD THE CARDINAL O'MALLEY FLIGHT FROM CUBA -- After five days in Havana, where he accompanied close to 100 pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Boston, Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley sat down with The Pilot on his flight from Havana to reflect on his experiences during the papal visit of Pope Francis to Cuba.

"As we return to the United States to continue accompanying the Holy Father on his pastoral visit to the Americas, we are so grateful to have had the privilege of being part of this extraordinary event in the lives of our Church and our countries," Cardinal O'Malley began.

He noted the historic significance of scheduling a papal visit to Cuba in the wake of Pope Francis' multi-city pilgrimage through the United States.

"The fact that the Holy Father chose to add this trip to Cuba to his visit to the United States underlines the great importance of the reconciliation between our two nations," he said.

Cardinal O'Malley recounted a conversation he had with one of the local Cuban bishops.

The bishops "spoke about how unpleasant it is if you in your neighborhood don't get along with your neighbor -- living in constant tensions, fearful that your family pet will run into their lawn or that their music will be on too loud, and all the kinds of hostilities that are generated in those kinds of situations."

"That's been the life of the Cuban people for decades, and the constant barrage of propaganda against the United States... and the people being told over and over again that the embargo was the sole cause of all of their suffering," leaves a mark on a society, he said.

Cardinal O'Malley noted that in the five days the Boston pilgrims were in Havana, they not only experienced the Papal Mass, they were also brought to share with everyday Cuban people.

"The life of the people in Cuba is indeed one of great austerity and want," Cardinal O'Malley continued. "In the many years I have been visiting the island, this is the visit with the most enthusiasm, joy and hope that I have experienced in the (Cuban) people. And they see the Holy Father's part in promoting reconciliation and they are so grateful."

Nowhere, he said, was this more visible than in the papal events held in Havana, as well as in Holguin and Santiago de Cuba: the three places Pope Francis visited while in Cuba.

"The Holy Father's message was one of joy. It was one of encouragement. It was one that was challenging," the cardinal said, noting that he personally "was particularly touched by the very enthusiastic reception that the Holy Father received from the young people whom he addressed in the park next to the cathedral, after the vespers ceremonies on Sunday."

"It was also wonderful to hear the very moving and cogent message the Holy Father had crafted for the young people, encouraging them to have a spirit of reconciliation and cooperation, working together for the common good and challenging them to dream of a world that will promote justice and peace," he continued.

He said Pope Francis cautioned the young people against what he termed a "throw away culture," where human life seems to be losing its value, he said. "(This culture is) throwing away young people who are often left without the possibility of employment; throwing away babies through abortion; throwing away the elderly who are no longer productive," the cardinal recounted, adding that Pope Francis then challenged the young people to "dream of a better world."

"His message was received with great enthusiasm," Cardinal O'Malley added.

Turning his attention to the pilgrimage made by the members of the archdiocese, Cardinal O'Malley noted that "it was an extraordinary event."

"We were very encouraged to be able to visit with various works of mercy that the Church is performing -- taking care of children with Down Syndrome, seeing places where the elderly are cared for, and many others who are in need," he said. "We are all grateful for the hospitality we received from the Church and the people of Cuba and we go back to the United States more aware of our solidarity and unity with our brothers and sisters in the faith in Cuba."

He also recounted a special Mass that was held on Sept 21, at the Convento de Santa Teresa de Jesus, a Carmelite cloister that houses a Carmelite community of 13 sisters. In addition to the Boston pilgrims, a delegation from the Miami Archdiocese, led by Archbishop Thomas Wenski, were invited to join the Mass.

"In that group there were many Cuban exiles who were returning to visit Cuba for the first time in their lives," he noted.

In all, Cardinal O'Malley said he found the pilgrimage a "very emotional, uplifting and unforgettable experience."Cardinal O'Malley says Cuba pilgrimage was an 'unforgettable experience'

By Gregory L. Tracy

ABOARD THE CARDINAL O'MALLEY FLIGHT FROM CUBA -- After five days in Havana, where he accompanied close to 100 pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Boston, Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley sat down with The Pilot on his flight from Havana to reflect on his experiences during the papal visit of Pope Francis to Cuba.

"As we return to the United States to continue accompanying the Holy Father on his pastoral visit to the Americas, we are so grateful to have had the privilege of being part of this extraordinary event in the lives of our Church and our countries," Cardinal O'Malley began.

He noted the historic significance of scheduling a papal visit to Cuba in the wake of Pope Francis' multi-city pilgrimage through the United States.

"The fact that the Holy Father chose to add this trip to Cuba to his visit to the United States underlines the great importance of the reconciliation between our two nations," he said.

Cardinal O'Malley recounted a conversation he had with one of the local Cuban bishops.

The bishops "spoke about how unpleasant it is if you in your neighborhood don't get along with your neighbor -- living in constant tensions, fearful that your family pet will run into their lawn or that their music will be on too loud, and all the kinds of hostilities that are generated in those kinds of situations."

"That's been the life of the Cuban people for decades, and the constant barrage of propaganda against the United States... and the people being told over and over again that the embargo was the sole cause of all of their suffering," leaves a mark on a society, he said.

Cardinal O'Malley noted that in the five days the Boston pilgrims were in Havana, they not only experienced the Papal Mass, they were also brought to share with everyday Cuban people.

"The life of the people in Cuba is indeed one of great austerity and want," Cardinal O'Malley continued. "In the many years I have been visiting the island, this is the visit with the most enthusiasm, joy and hope that I have experienced in the (Cuban) people. And they see the Holy Father's part in promoting reconciliation and they are so grateful."

Nowhere, he said, was this more visible than in the papal events held in Havana, as well as in Holguin and Santiago de Cuba: the three places Pope Francis visited while in Cuba.

"The Holy Father's message was one of joy. It was one of encouragement. It was one that was challenging," the cardinal said, noting that he personally "was particularly touched by the very enthusiastic reception that the Holy Father received from the young people whom he addressed in the park next to the cathedral, after the vespers ceremonies on Sunday."

"It was also wonderful to hear the very moving and cogent message the Holy Father had crafted for the young people, encouraging them to have a spirit of reconciliation and cooperation, working together for the common good and challenging them to dream of a world that will promote justice and peace," he continued.

He said Pope Francis cautioned the young people against what he termed a "throw away culture," where human life seems to be losing its value, he said. "(This culture is) throwing away young people who are often left without the possibility of employment; throwing away babies through abortion; throwing away the elderly who are no longer productive," the cardinal recounted, adding that Pope Francis then challenged the young people to "dream of a better world."

"His message was received with great enthusiasm," Cardinal O'Malley added.

Turning his attention to the pilgrimage made by the members of the archdiocese, Cardinal O'Malley noted that "it was an extraordinary event."

"We were very encouraged to be able to visit with various works of mercy that the Church is performing -- taking care of children with Down Syndrome, seeing places where the elderly are cared for, and many others who are in need," he said. "We are all grateful for the hospitality we received from the Church and the people of Cuba and we go back to the United States more aware of our solidarity and unity with our brothers and sisters in the faith in Cuba."

He also recounted a special Mass that was held on Sept 21, at the Convento de Santa Teresa de Jesus, a Carmelite cloister that houses a Carmelite community of 13 sisters. In addition to the Boston pilgrims, a delegation from the Miami Archdiocese, led by Archbishop Thomas Wenski, were invited to join the Mass.

"In that group there were many Cuban exiles who were returning to visit Cuba for the first time in their lives," he noted.

In all, Cardinal O'Malley said he found the pilgrimage a "very emotional, uplifting and unforgettable experience."

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