Hello and welcome!
Last week I traveled to Cuba, and to reach Cuba I had to go through Miami. So, I took the occasion to visit some friends and relatives there.
I celebrated Mass at the beautiful St. Mary’s Cathedral where Father Chris Marino is the rector. He very graciously received us there.
With me were three Friars of my province: Brother Carlos, Brother Saul and Brother Diogo.
In the cathedral they have a side altar depicting the marriage of Mary and Joseph in the presence of Zechariah, which is a very unusual theme for a church, so I thought I would share it with you.
I was also able to celebrate the Sacrament of the Sick for a dear friend of mine who is going to have surgery soon. Even my flight was a chance for me to visit an old friend who is now running the Miami airport, Emilio Gonzales.
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From Miami I traveled to Cuba to be part of the celebration in honor of Cardinal Jaime Ortega, who is celebrating 50 years of priestly ordination. He has been the Archbishop of Havana for over 30 years.
The local church there planned the celebration and, in solidarity with the Church in Cuba, a number of us from the United States went to be present including Bishop Octavio Cisneros, Archbishop Roberto Gonzales and Cardinal McCarrick.
Mario Paredes from the American Bible Society, which recently sponsored a biblical exhibition in the Cathedral of Havana, was also with us.
In Havana I stayed at the nunciature. It is where I stayed in 2002 when I was making the visitation to the seminary. I remember that on my first day at the nunciature there was a lot of excitement because a huge crowd of young people stormed the Mexican Embassy, which was right next door, seeking political asylum. They climbed up on the roof, commandeered a bus and broke down the gate to get into the embassy. Their asylum didn’t last long because the army arrived in the middle of the night and arrested them all.
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On Friday there was a cultural event in honor of the Cardinal.
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The next day, August 2, the actual anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood, was the Mass of thanksgiving in the Cathedral of Havana.
There was a wonderful orchestra and choir, which sang a beautiful Mozart Mass and ended with the Halleluiah Chorus. It was very impressive — but being August 2 in Havana, it was also very warm!
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Saturday was also the Feast of the Portiuncula, a very important day for Franciscans. I had an opportunity to be with one of the Capuchins from my province who is working in Cuba, Father Emilio Biosca, whom I ordained many years ago. After working for 10 years in Papua New Guinea, he has now been in Cuba for seven or eight years and is the pastor in Manzanillo, a town near Santiago de Cuba.
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The following day, I had Mass in the Capuchin church in Havana, Jesus de Miramar.
On the way back from the church we passed the Church of St. Rita were there was a demonstration by the Damas en Blanca, who are the wives of political prisoners.
Having travelled to Cuba over many years, it is interesting to see how much the situation has changed. For example, one of the amazing things for me was to see how many people are traveling every day to Cuba.
While there has been a great deal of improvement, of course there are still tensions. Certainly tensions between the United States and Cuba are exacerbated by the imprisonment of Alan Gross. We are hoping this situation can be resolved, not only for humanitarian reasons — his mother recently died while he has been in prison and he has had health problems — but it is also a great obstacle to the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba. The Cuban government is demanding the release of three Cuban prisoners who have been held in the United States for spying, and the United States is demanding the release of Mr. Gross.
I have also seen a marked improvement in the Church’s situation, just in the way it has more space to move. In many ways, it has been Cardinal Ortega who has been able to expand what the Church is able to do ministerially in Cuba.
When I first travelled to Cuba in the early 80s, the activities of the Church were very severely curtailed. If someone under 70 years of age went to Mass they would be threatened, but now you see families going to church and they have been able to build a new seminary.
The Church also engages in charitable works in the parishes, particularly taking care of the elderly. There are many elderly people whose families have left Cuba and they are on their own. So the Church, especially through Caritas Cubana, has expanded her outreach to the needy.
Pope John Paul II planted this palm tree as a sapling at the nunciature during his visit in 1998 and now it is a huge tree. To me it is very symbolic, because the turning point in the history of the Church in Cuba was, in many ways, the visit of Pope St. John Paul II.
This plaque sits next to the palm. For those who don’t speak Spanish, it says:
Bless Lord, this Royal Palm tree, symbol of Cuban identity, so that faithful to the Christian roots of this culture, it may grow in the sovereignty and dignity of the human person and the freedom of the nation
John Paul II, January 25, 1998
I remember when I visited the seminary a couple years after his visit. There were about 60 men studying theology and 20 philosophy. Ninety percent of them were converts and they attributed their conversion to the visit of Pope John Paul II. Pope John Paul II’s televised Mass in the Plaza de la Revolucion was the first time that most of the population of Cuba was seeing a Catholic Mass. So, we have always tried to be in solidarity with the Church in Cuba and I was happy to be at this very significant celebration of the leader of the Church there.
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From there, I went to Orlando for the Knights of Columbus’ 132nd Supreme Convention.
At the banquet we were addressed by actor Gary Sinise, who spoke about his wife’s and his conversion to Catholicism.
He also spoke about the mission he has taken on to help service members who have suffered severe injuries or amputations and helping them to be able to cope with their disabilities through providing what are called “smart houses.” The Knights of Columbus are cooperating with his foundation to help wounded veterans.
We were also addressed by Bishop John Noonan, who is the Bishop of Orlando and Cardinal Orlando Quevedo, who is the Archbishop of Cotabato in the Philippines and Cardinal Rivera Carrera the Archbishop of Mexico City and the keynote address was given by Archbishop Lacroix of Québec.
The States Dinner is always a very impressive occasion to see the national — and increasingly international — scope of the Knights of Columbus.
For example, in the Philippines there are now 360,000 Knights of Columbus. Worldwide, there are over 1,800,000 Knights and at the Supreme Convention there were representatives from Poland and Lithuania. The international nature of the Knights is expanding, now extending to development of councils in South Korea, even as their membership in North America continues to grow.
I served as the homilist for the Mass celebrated on the Feast of the Transfiguration, and I’d like to share my homily with you here:
I was very happy to see our contingent from Massachusetts at the convention, including Bishop Peter Uglietto, Bishop Bob Hennessey, Father Bob Kickham, Father Chuck Connolly and Father Dick Mehm.
Of course, Father Bob Reed of the CatholicTV Network were also there covering this very important event.
Archbishop Kurtz with Kevin Nelson and Father Reed
Gary Sinise with the folks from CatholicTV
While I was Supreme Convention I had an interview with CatholicTV, which I’d like to share with you:
Until next week,