Pope Francis arrives to lead his weekly audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Sept. 30 (CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters).

Pope Francis Recalls Visit to the United States and Cuba

“God always wants to build bridges; it is we who build walls! And walls fall, always!” Pope Francis said at his first public audience in St. Peter’s Square, Sept. 30, after his visit to Cuba and the United States. He described his journey from one country to the other “an emblematic passage, a bridge that is being built, thanks be to God.”

Looking very well in spite of an exhausting and demanding journey, Francis gave a summary report and comment on his visit to both countries at today’s general audience. He began by recalling that his visit originated out of a wish to participate in the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, but was later “expanded” to include Cuba, the United States and the United Nations.

Reviewing the various events, he commented in particular on the World Meeting of Families (WMF) which, he said, “providentially” took place at this moment in the history of the United States, where “the religious roots” of this country call on us “to start again from the family to re-think and change the model of development, for the good of the entire human family.”

He thanked Presidents Castro and Obama and the Secretary General of the United Nations for “the welcome they reserved for me,” and his “brother bishops and their collaborators” for the great work done.” He expressed special words of praise for Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput, “for his commitment, his piety, his enthusiasm, and his great love for the family in organizing this event (WMF).”

On his visit to Washington, Francis said he met the political authorities, ordinary folk, bishops, priests, consecrated persons as well as the poor and the marginalized. There, he reminded everyone that “the great wealth of this country and this people is in its spiritual and ethical patrimony.” He said he sought “to encourage (the nation) to carry forward the social construction in fidelity to its fundamental principle that all people are created equal by God, and endowed with inalienable rights, such as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

He noted that “these values are shared by all, and find in the Gospel their complete fulfillment”, a point he had highlighted at the canonization of the Franciscan priest, Junipero Serra, “the great evangelizer of California.” He declared that this saint shows the way of joy: “to go and share with others the love of Christ, and said that too “is the way of the Christian, and of every person that has known love: not to keep it for oneself, but to share it with others.” Francis said the United States “were born and have grown on this religious and ethical, and it is on these bases too that they can continue to be the land of the free and of welcome and cooperation for a more just and fraternal world.”

Commenting on his visit to the United Nations in New York, his meetings with its Secretary General, the Presidents of the General Assemblies and the Security Council, Francis said he re-affirmed “the encouragement of the Catholic Church” to this world body and “its role in the promotion of development and peace,” and emphasized “the need for concrete and effective accord for the care of creation.” He recalled too his appeal to “to stop and prevent violence against ethnic and religious minorities and against the civilian populations.”

He remembered the moving “prayer for peace and fraternity” at the Memorial of Ground Zero, together with representatives of other religions and relatives of those who had died there, as well as the people of New York, “so rich in cultural diversity.” And he recalled celebrating the Eucharist “for justice and peace” in Madison Square Garden.

Both in Washington and New York, he said, he encountered “some charitable and educational realities” that are “emblematic of the enormous service that the Catholic community—priests, men and women religious, lay faithful—offered in these fields.”

The visited ended with the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, he recalled, where “the horizon broadened out to the whole world, through ‘the prism’ of the family.” He affirmed that “the family – that fruitful alliance between man and woman, is the response to the great challenge of our world, which is a double challenge of fragmentation and ‘massification’—two extremes that live together and sustain each other, and together sustain the economic model of consumerism.”

He presented the family as the answer to this double challenge, “because it is the cell of society that balances the personal and communitarian dimension, and can at the same time be the model for sustainable management of goods and of the resources of creation.” It can also be “the protagonist-subject of an integral development, because it is the primary social subject that contains within itself the two principle bases of human civilization on earth: the principle of communion and the principle of fecundity. “ He said the “biblical humanism presents us with this icon: the human couple, united and fecund, placed by God in the garden of the world to cultivate and care for it.”

He said “it’s Providential that the message, or rather the witness of the World Meeting of Families happened at this moment in the United States, a country that in the past century reached maximum economic and technological development without denying its religious roots. Now, these same roots call (the nation) to start again from the family (so as) to re-think and change the model of development, for the good of the entire human family.”

Francis talked first about how, on the first leg of his journey, he went to Cub as “a missionary of mercy” and emphasized that “the Mercy of God is greater than every wound, every conflict, and every ideology.” And “with this look of mercy…I was able to embrace all the Cuban people, in the fatherland and outside it, beyond every division.”

He presented the Virgin of Charity of Cobre, the Patroness of Cuba, as “a symbol of the profound unity of the Cuban soul”, and recalled his prayer at the shrine of this Mother of Hope, “who guides (the country) on the journey of justice, peace, freedom and reconciliation.”

He rejoiced that he was able to share with the Cuban people “the hope of fulfilling the prophecy of St. John Paul II: that “Cuba would open to the world, and the world would open to Cuba. “ He explained that this meant, “No more closures, no more exploitation of poverty, but freedom in dignity.”

This is the journey, he said, that “stirs the hearts of many young Cubans: not a road of evasion, or of easy earnings, but of responsibility, service to the neighbor, and care of the fragil”; a journey that “draws strength from the Christian roots of this people that has suffered much.” He said he encouraged the priests, consecrated person, students and families (to go) on this journey. He concluded by praying that Mary Most Holy, “would make grow the seeds that we have cast.”