HAVANA — The Cuban bishops announced that 2012 would be a Marian jubilee year and that Pope Benedict XVI would come to Cuba as a “pilgrim of La Caridad,” the popular name for the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre, the country’s patroness.
In a Dec. 8 pastoral letter, they declared a jubilee year from Jan. 7, 2012, through Jan. 6, 2013, and said Cubans need the joy of faith, the strength of Christian love, and the light of hope that can come from “a reunion with our Christian roots” and with the “enthusiastic reception of the teachings of Jesus Christ.”
The bishops did not announce dates of the papal visit but said it would be part of national observances of the 400th anniversary of the discovery of Virgin of Charity of El Cobre, the small statue of Mary found floating in the Bay of Nipe, which came to be the country’s most revered icon.
The Vatican earlier confirmed that a papal trip to Mexico and Cuba for spring 2012 was in the final planning stages.
Since August 2010, a replica of the statue of the Virgin of Charity has been traveling around the country for a series of processions, prayer services and Masses. Record crowds have turned out for the religious events in every part of Cuba, exceeding the expectations of organizers, and meeting with no apparent resistance from the country’s communist government.
The tour of the replica, known as La Mambisa, has led to a new springtime of faith in the hearts of the Cuban people, the bishops said.
People have been spontaneously attracted to the Virgin “and undergo a peculiar inner harmony with her,” they said, much as children bond with their mothers before words are spoken, through silences, songs, gestures and offerings.
This maternal language, “so dear and personal,” has helped people recover values and helped meet the needs of the sick, those separated from their loved ones, prisoners and their families, young people, elderly and people worried by financial pressures.
“The Virgin of Charity is talking to us and offering us the best thing: God’s son Jesus Christ, our only savior,” the bishops said.
They encouraged “all who can” to make a pilgrimage during the jubilee year to the shrine of El Cobre in the Archdiocese of Santiago de Cuba.
Pope John Paul II visited Cuba in January 1998, the first trip of a pope to the nation. The visit was considered significant for the opening it signified in the strained relationship of the church and the communist government, which has at times been brutal in its treatment of religious practice.