American pilgrims who traveled to Cuba for Pope Benedict XVI’s recent visit found inspiration in the devotion of the people and left with hope for the future of Cuban society.
Naomi Montoya told EWTN News that she was touched by “how strong they all are in their faith, even though the country is suffering a lot.”
Montoya traveled from Denver, Colo. to take part in the Pope’s March 26-28 trip to Cuba.
She said that she was amazed to “see so many dedicated Cuban people” and recalled seeing their “faces light up” at the papal Mass in Havana’s Revolution Square.
Montoya was also surprised at how freely the people in the communist-run country were allowed to worship, a relatively new development that she sees as an indication of hope for the country’s future.
Montoya was a participant in one of several pilgrimages that brought groups of Americans to Cuba for the Pope’s visit.
In the days leading up to the March 28 papal Mass, the American pilgrims visited historical churches and convents in Havana, learning about the country’s history and culture.
David Chiu, a sophomore at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., missed several days of class in order to attend, but he believes that it was worth it “just to be in the presence of the Pope.”
The 19-year-old political science major said that he was also interested to see the society.
“The Cuban people are very resilient, despite all the experiences they’ve been through and all the things they’ve faced,” he observed.
He explained that he had seen numerous cars being held together with scrap materials, illustrating just one of the challenges facing the people.
“But they’re happy,” he said. “That really impressed me.”
Chiu found the Pope’s Mass “beautiful,” and said that he did not expect to see so many different countries represented in the crowd.
He was also amazed to see such strength in the Cuban people’s “ties to their culture.”
“They’re not afraid to show it,” he said.
Throughout his visit, Pope Benedict repeatedly emphasized the need to renew the faith that has played such a strong role in forming Cuban culture.
He encouraged the people to return “to the faith of your elders” as a foundation for building a “renewed and reconciled” society based on the “most noble values” of the Cuban soul.
Maria Navedo, who lives in New York City, was charmed by the Cuban culture. She said that while she was initially scared because she had never traveled to Cuba before, she quickly realized that the people were welcoming and friendly.
As the same time, she observed, they were “cautious” and “hardened” by the difficult experiences they have endured.
She added that the authority figures in the country were “not approachable” at all.
One of the most memorable moments for Navedo was participating in Mass at a Carmelite convent in Havana, where a community of nuns has lived for more than 300 years. It “so beautiful,” she said, to discover the silent, ongoing witness of the nuns who have remained steadfast in the midst of drastic changes in the country surrounding them.
“It’s a blessing for Cuba and for the world,” she said.
Navedo described the Pope’s Mass in Havana as an “emotional” experience for her. She believes that Pope Benedict “said what had to be said.”
Emphasizing that healing will take place “little by little,” she is hopeful that the people of Cuba will now take Pope Benedict’s message “deep into their hearts and make the change.”