VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI said that during his recent journey to Mexico and Cuba, he experienced “unforgettable days of joy and hope.”
While he went as “a witness of Jesus Christ,” it was also an opportune occasion to call for reform, especially in allowing greater religious freedom, he said.
At his weekly general audience April 4 in St. Peter’s Square, the pope told an estimated 11,000 pilgrims and visitors about his March 23-28 visit.
“I reminded everyone that Cuba and the world need change,” he said.
However, real change will come about “only if everyone opens up to the whole truth about mankind — a binding requirement in order to achieve liberty — and decides to cultivate in their lives reconciliation and brotherhood, building their life on Jesus Christ,” he said.
Only Jesus “can dispel the darkness of error, helping us conquer evil and all that oppresses us,” the pope said.
The Church does not seek to secure any special privileges for itself, he said, just the freedom to be able to preach and celebrate one’s faith even in the public sphere and “bring the Gospel message of hope and peace to every part of society.”
He said he appreciated all that has been done up to now by Cuban authorities but that he emphasized it was necessary to continue on this path of allowing “ever fuller religious freedom.”
Such progress, he said, will require “an effort of sincere collaboration and patient dialogue for the good of the country.”
His visit to Cuba was also meant as a sign of support for the mission of the church there: “to proclaim the Gospel with joy despite the lack of means and difficulties still left to overcome so that religion may carry out its spiritual and educative service in the public realm,” he said.
He said he wanted to assure the people there that “the pope carries in his heart the worries and hopes of all Cubans, especially those who suffer because of restrictions on freedom.”
Pope Benedict said his goal of the trip had been to offer courage and hope to the church in all of Latin America.
He repeated the importance of religious freedom, he said, because “when God is excluded, the world turns into an inhospitable place for mankind.”
He recalled the joy and enthusiasm of the people who welcomed him and the show of faith at many of the liturgical events.
“I encouraged the Mexican people to let their deep Christian roots inspire their efforts to overcome violence and to work for a better future,” he said.
And in Cuba, “I prayed for a rebirth of faith, openness to God’s love and respect for the truth about our human dignity and freedom revealed in Christ,” he said.