In his homily at the Plaza of the Revolution of the eastern city of Holguín – the second leg of his trip to Cuba – Pope Francis praised the role that “mission houses” play in the face of a “scarcity of churches and priests” on the island.
Before a multitude assembled in the Calixto García Ibáñez Plaza of the Revolution, the Pontiff said: “I recognize the effort and sacrifice the Church in Cuba devotes to taking the Word and Presence of Christ to all, even in the most remote areas.”
“What are known as ‘mission houses’ deserve a special mention, for they, in the face of a lack of churches and priests, allow for many people to have a space for prayer, for listening to the Word, for catechism, and for community life,” said the Pope.
He added: “They (“mission houses”) are small signs of the presence of God in our neighborhoods, as well as a consistent source of support that make the words of Saint Paul the Apostle come alive: ‘I urge you to lead a life worthy of the vocation to which you were called.’”
At the moment, there are seventy of these types of houses in the Holguín Diocese.
Quoting Saint Paul, Bergoglio then said: “With all humility and gentleness, and with patience, support each other in love. Take every care to preserve the unity of the Spirit by the peace that binds you together.”
Mission houses are an evangelization initiative born in the 1960’s, and although the authorities in Havana did not actively endorse them, they were never forbidden. Currently there 2,330 mission houses throughout Cuba.
They are places where baptisms are held, where stable communities gather, and where regular events take place. The Cuban Bishops Conference considers them “one of the most important assets of the Church.”
Holguín’s bishop, Emilio Aranguren Echevarría had a few words of thanks for the Pope. The Bishop also told him that his visit compels his diocese to promote “pastoral work focused on bringing people together.”
The Bishop was referring to working towards “bringing friends, relatives, neighbors, and fellow citizens back together, as a first step that might help in (Cuba’s) necessary reconciliation.”
According to its figures, the Diocese of Holguín is one of eleven on the island. It includes four vicariates, six pastoral work zones, 28 parish churches, four quasi-parishes (two in Las Tunas and two in Holguín provinces), 28 non-parish churches, 21 shrines, and 170 mission and prayer houses.
The pastoral work is borne by 32 priests, twelve men consecrated to religious life (ten of whom are priests), four deacons, 55 consecrated women representing 17 orders, and three women belonging to the Missionary Oblate Sisters of Mary Immaculate. Evangelization, catechism, and missionary work are the responsibility of over 200 lay people. The Diocese also counts on 171 Eucharistic ministers.
The Pope’s act in Holguín was his first in this Cuban city, the third largest in the country, where upon his arrival he was received by Bishop Aranguren and local authorities.
After Mass, the Pope plans to visit the Hill of the Cross, a promontory from which the whole city can be seen, and from where he will bless its people.
Next, Francis will travel to Santiago de Cuba for the third leg of his trip. Upon arrival he will meet with the island’s bishops.