Sunday, August 23, 2015

Blessing of Pilgrims to Cuba

Three days ago I was privileged to celebrate Mass with some of the pilgrims accompanying Cardinal O'Malley to the Holy Father's Pastoral Visit to Cuba in a few weeks.  Here's the homily I preached and the prayers I offered that God keep them safe and sanctify them on this great journey!

Why be a pilgrim?

Because every pilgrimage is but a rehearsal, every such trip a preparation for that final journey which we will take at the end of our lives. When we will run out to meet him as he comes to judge the living and dead, facing our  Creator with the hope of eternal life.

For every pilgrimage every procession every movement from here to there is but a reflection of the only procession, the only pilgrimage which really matters, from here to eternity

And the same is true for Popes as it is for pilgrims: Pope Francis, who is planning for his pastoral visit to Cuba in just few weeks, is going for the same reason you are: to draw closer to God, and to draw others along that same path.

That means that despite the socioeconomic, political and historical aspects of this trip, at its heart is Jesus, his Blessed Mother and his Church and the universal call to holiness in him.

Four Hundred and fifteen years ago, three boys were on a pilgrimage as well.  They were in a little boat, rowing across the Bay of Nipe on the eastern side of Cuba.  They thought they were looking for salt to preserve the meat which their families ate back home.  But halfway across the bay they found not what what they were looking for, but she who was looking for them.

A storm broke out and their little boat was tossed hither and yon.  But when the clouds parted they saw, way in the distance a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary approaching them above the waves.  She was holding the Christ Jesus in one arm and a golden cross in in the other, with a sign beneath:  "I am the Virgin of Charity.”

304 years later, Pope Benedict XV declared Our Lady of Charity to be the patron of Cuba, and 96 years after that, on the 400th anniversary of the apparition, Pope Benedicy XVI "entrusted to the Mother of God the future of  [Cuba], advancing along the ways of renewal and hope, for the greater good of all Cubans….”  Then the Pope approached the venerable statue, lit a candle and stood in silent prayer for several minutes while a choir sang the Salve Regina.  

Like the three young men in the boat, Pope Benedict XVI and soon Pope Francis and you: will make a pilgrimage to Cuba, a pilgrimage to a life of holiness and charity for the Cuban people and for each and every one of you.

During his pastoral visit, Pope Benedict XVI appealed to the Cuban people “to reinvigorate your faith … that you may strive to build a renewed and open society, a better society, one more worthy of humanity…”

His appeal should echo in our hearts, as well.  For a pilgrimage to Cuba is not essentially about politics or tourism, but about our faith.

I envy you in making this journey to a land with such a rich and long history of vibrant Catholic faith.  But I will be one with you in prayer, joined at the Altar, as it were, and I urge you for your entire journey to be like the three young men in the boat, keeping your eyes fixed on the horizon, ever hopeful of finding “Our Lady of Charity,” and her Son, who is the fulfillment of every pilgrim’s dream.

So now, may I invite you to stand for the Pilgrim Blessing.

Book of Blessings, nos. 602-603


As you prepare to make this pilgrim journey, let us pray for safety and health and for the Cuban people with whom you will seek the Living God.

Father all-holy, of old you made yourself the guide and the way for your people as they wandered in the desert; be our protection as we begin this journey, so that we may return home again in safety. 

We Pray to the Lord:         R.  Lord, hear our prayer.

You have given us your only Son to be our way to you; make us follow him faithfully and unswervingly.

We Pray to the Lord:         R.  Lord, hear our prayer.

You gave us Mary as the image and model for following Christ; grant that through her example we may live a new life.

We Pray to the Lord:         R.  Lord, hear our prayer.

You guide your pilgrim Church on earth through the Holy Spirit; may we seek you in all things and walk always in the way of your commandments. 

We Pray to the Lord:         R.  Lord, hear our prayer.

You lead us along right and peaceful paths; grant that we may one day see you face to face in heaven. 

We Pray to the Lord:         R.  Lord, hear our prayer.


With hands outstretched, the celebrant continues with the prayer of blessing.

All-powerful God,
you always show mercy toward those who love you
and you are never far away for those who seek you.
Remain with your servants on this holy pilgrimage
and guide their way in accord with your will.
Shelter them with your protection by day,
give them the light of your grace by night,
and, as their companion on the journey,
bring them to their destination in safety.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
R.  Amen.