09/18/2015, 00.00
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Pope tells Cubans he is coming to them "as a missionary of mercy, of the tenderness of God"

The pope’s video message is broadcast on the island on the eve of his arrival. “I shall visit you to share faith and hope, so that we can fortify each other by following Jesus,” he said. Tomorrow's departure signals the start of the longest papal trip. In the US, he will meet Obama, speak at the UN, visit Ground Zero and bring to a close the VIII World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – On the eve of his arrival in Cuba, expected at 4 pm local time, Pope Francis sent a video message to its people, expressing his desire to be a witness of God’s mercy in the country.

“I want to be among you as a missionary of mercy, of the tenderness of God, but allow me also to encourage you to be missionaries of this infinite love of God,” the Pope said in his video message broadcast last night on all Cuban TV channels.

I shall visit you to share faith and hope, so that we can fortify each other by following Jesus. It does me a lot of good and it helps me a lot to think about your faithfulness to the Lord, the courage with which you face everyday difficulties, the love with which you help and support each other along the path of life. Thank you for such precious testimony."

In his message, the Holy Father thanked Cuban Catholics for preparing this visit with prayers. "We need to pray; we need prayer; [we need] that contact with Jesus and Mary.”

"For my part,” he went on to say, “I would like to convey a very simple message, but I think it is important and necessary: Jesus loves you very much; Jesus really loves you. He always carries you in his heart. He knows better than anyone else what everyone needs, what your longings are, what your deepest desire is. He never abandons us, and even when we don’t act as he expects us to, Jesus is always at our side, ready to welcome us, to comfort us, to give us a new hope, a new opportunity, a new life. He never leaves. He is always there."

In ending his message, the pontiff encouraged Cubans "to be missionaries of God’s infinite love. May no one miss the witness of our faith, of our love. May all the world know that God always forgives, that God is always with us, that God loves us."

Cuba is the first leg of Francis’ longest trip. During his stay in the Caribbean island, where he will likely meet with Fidel Castro, the pope will also visit the shrine of the Virgin of Cobre, patroness of Cuba, in Holguin. As he said in the video message, he will come "as an ordinary pilgrim, as a son who wants to reach the house of the Mother. I entrust to her this trip and all Cubans."

On Tuesday, Francis will leave Cuba for the United States, where he will remain until Sunday, 27 September.

His schedule is full. It includes a meeting in Washington with President Obama and the canonisation of Junipero Serra on Wednesday; an address to the US Congress on Thursday; and a visit to the United Nations, Ground Zero and Madison Square Garden in New York on Friday.

Francis will dedicate the last two days in the US to the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.

On Saturday, he will celebrate Mass and take part in a meeting on religious freedom. In the evening, he will join the ‘Festival of families’ and participate in a prayer vigil.

On Sunday, after a visit with the inmates at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, he will celebrate the final Mass of the 8th World Meeting of Families and subsequently greet all those who contributed to the event. Afterwards, he will leave at 8 pm (local time) for Rome.

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