'Ad limina' meeting was a 'sharing among shepherds,' Cuban bishop says

IMAGE: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano

By Junno Arocho Esteves

ROME (CNS) — Having a group meeting with Pope Francis was not like attending a
lecture, but it was a moment of communion and sharing among friends and
shepherds, a Cuban archbishop said.

people call it an audience, it sounds like we’re there only to listen,
but this was a sharing among shepherds; a meeting of bishops — the apostles
that are in Cuba — and Peter,” Archbishop Dionisio Garcia Ibanez of
Santiago, president
of the Cuban bishops’
conference, told
Catholic News Service May 4.

Pope Francis met with the13 prelates from the Caribbean
island-nation earlier that
day during the “ad limina” visit that bishops are required to
make to the Vatican.

Archbishop Garcia said the pope listened intently as well as
offered advice on the challenges facing the nearly 6 million Catholics in Cuba.

Although the problems “are common in many
churches,” Archbishop Garcia said, they “manifest in Cuba in a unique

“It is a poor church and we need material help. But
more than anything, we need missionaries, we need priests, religious men and
women. The number of missionaries does not reach the demand of people who come
to the church and the evangelization efforts we have,” he said.

While the government has granted greater religious freedoms to
the Catholic Church, Archbishop Garcia told CNS that the lack of money has made
it difficult to “build new churches in so many places where we have
started to preach the faith.”

The church, however, continues to stay strong and is
encouraged by the support by the pope, he added.

“We know and we feel the appreciation of the Holy See
for Cuba and we thanked (Pope Francis) for that. We told him about the
situation of our church, which is a very fragile and poor church in many things,
but one that is
also creative and enthusiastic about evangelizing. He listened to us and gave
us advice; it was a conversation among shepherds,” Archbishop Garcia told

He also said that Catholics in Cuba are “very grateful” for the affection shown to them,
particularly throughout the past three pontificates.

closeness of the universal church to the people of Cuba began with St.
John Paul II’s historic
visit in 1998, the first
visit of a pope to the country.

“Pope John Paul II was an imposing person; imposing not
only in how he presented himself but also because of his personal history. He
was a man who lived through totalitarianism and who went out to fight for his
church,” the
archbishop said.

Archbishop Garcia said, when St. John Paul visited Cuba, “his old
age and physical weakness made him even more lovable because of his frailty and
the power of his voice and thought.”

Pope Benedict XVI visited Cuba in 2012. Recalling the
retired pope’s “methodical and studious” personality, Archbishop
Garcia said that although he
had shown signs of frailty, “he had a very powerful way of

“Pope Benedict spent two days in Cuba whereas Pope John
Paul II spent five days. Yet in only two days, he conquered the hearts of the
people,” the archbishop said.

However, he continued, Pope Francis stands out since
“out of all three, he was the one that was known before” he became

As archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, then-Cardinal
Jorge Mario Bergoglio headed the drafting committee for the final document of
the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean
in 2007 in Aparecida, Brazil.

The document’s call to renew the church’s commitment to
mission and discipleship in
Latin America, particularly reaching out to those far from the church, resonated
in areas where the church was in decline or just beginning to flourish,
Archbishop Garcia said.

Cuban people love Pope Francis’ “Latin American personality” and his
way of “transmitting the Gospel in a very Latin American style,” the
archbishop said.

Each of the three popes, “according to their own
personality, according to the historical moment, have left their mark which is
to bring us the Gospel,” Archbishop Garcia told CNS.

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