Bishop Richard E. Pates reflects on his upcoming trip to Cuba for Pope Benedict's historic visit to the country:
As Chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, I have the privilege of traveling to countries where the Catholic Church faces great challenges in proclaiming its mission of reconciliation and dialogue. My journeys have taken me in the past year to Côte d’Ivoire and Venezuela---nations in which the Church courageously serves as one of the few institutions in civil society able to mediate among conflicting elements of the local societies. Perhaps no better example exists of this unique and challenging calling of the Church than the witness of the bishops, priests, religious and Catholic faithful who act with such courage and determination in Cuba, serving as a bridge among conflicting factions in Cuban society. We support efforts of the Church to strengthen religious freedom, defend human rights in Cuba, and promote civil society. We share the view of the bishops of Cuba that the best way to promote greater respect for religious freedom and human rights is through increased dialogue and contact, not isolation of the Cuban people.
For this reason I am eagerly anticipating my visit to Cuba this month. In union with the whole Church, we celebrate and look forward with great joy to the historic visit by the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, to Cuba, scheduled for March 26 through 28 of this year.
The situation in Cuba is of great concern to the Church in the United States. The delegation of which I am a member wants to express the solidarity of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops with the Holy Father and with the Church and people of Cuba. We make our own the pastoral vision that is inspiring the Holy Father to reach out to the faithful in Cuba at this time of great religious joy in celebrating the Four Hundredth Anniversary of the Patroness of Cuba, Our Lady of Charity. In addition, as Chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace of the Conference, I hope to learn first-hand about the current situation in Cuba in order to influence U.S. policy toward Cuba in positive ways.
We pray that the blessings occasioned by the visit of the Holy Father, in his role as Universal Pastor of the Church, and in his concern for the spiritual and social well-being of the people of Cuba, will strengthen peace, reconciliation and dialogue among all elements of Cuban society. In this way, we unite ourselves with our Holy Father and the Church in Cuba in speaking for the dignity and value of each human life, safeguarding religious freedom, and promoting human rights for all the citizens of this nation at this time of great joy.