September 23, 2015 at 12:24 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Pope Francis meets with Cuban families

Havana, Cuba, gay news, Washington Blade

Pope Francis on Sept. 22, 2015, ended his three-day trip to Cuba by meeting with a group of families in the city of Santiago de Cuba. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Pope Francis on Tuesday met with a group of Cuban families before departing the island for the U.S.

Vatican Radio reported the pontiff met with the families at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption in Santiago de Cuba, the country’s second largest city that is roughly 540 miles southeast of the Cuban capital of Havana.

Francis during the meeting described families as “domestic churches” in whose homes “people learn to discover God’s love present and at work.” He lamented the fact “these spaces are shrinking” throughout many parts of the world.

“These experiences of family are disappearing,” said Francis, according to his prepared remarks that Vatican Radio posted to its website. “Everything is slowly breaking up, growing apart.”

“Without family, without the warmth of home, life grows empty, there is a weakening of the networks which sustain us in adversity, nurture us in daily living and motivate us to build a better future,” he added. “The family saves us from two present-day phenomena: fragmentation and uniformity. In both cases, people turn into isolated individuals, easy to manipulate and to rule. Societies which are divided, broken, separated or rigidly uniform are a result of the breakup of family bonds, the loss of those relationships which make us who we are, which teach us to be persons.”

Francis during the meeting also said “the perfect family does not exist.”

“There are no perfect husbands and wives, perfect parents, perfect children, but this does not prevent families from being the answer for the future,” he said. “God inspires us to love, and love always engages with the persons it loves. So let us care for our families, true schools for the future. Let us care for our families, true spaces of freedom. Let us care for families, true centers of humanity.”

Francis earlier in the day celebrated Mass at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre in Santiago de Cuba, which is named in honor of Cuba’s patron saint.

“Like Mary, we want to be a church which can accompany all those ‘pregnant’ situations of our people, committed to life, to culture, to society, not washing our hands but rather walking with our brothers and sisters,” he said, according to Vatican Radio.

Francis arrived in Cuba on Saturday.

The Argentine-born pontiff on Sunday celebrated Mass at Havana’s Revolution Square.

Francis later in the day met with Cuban President Raúl Castro and his brother, former Cuban President Fidel Castro. The pontiff also spoke to thousands of young people at a cultural center run by the Archdiocese of Havana.

Cuban authorities on Sunday detained a member of the Ladies of White, a leading opposition group, and three other dissidents ahead of the Mass in Havana. Reports also indicate that the island’s Communist government prevented dissidents from meeting with the Argentine-born pontiff.

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Pope Francis on Sept. 20, 2015, celebrated Mass in Havana’s Revolution Square. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Francis on Monday traveled to Holguín where he celebrated Mass in front of more than 100,000 people. He later flew to Santiago de Cuba where he prayed at the sanctuary of the country’s patron saint in the nearby town of El Cobre.

Francis did not specifically reference homosexuality, marriage rights for same-sex couples and other LGBT issues while in Cuba. He did note during his meeting with the families in Santiago de Cuba that he “will join” those attending the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia this weekend.

Francis also referenced a three-week gathering of Catholic bishops in Rome next month during which they will vote on a document that specifically addresses the family. LGBT organizations and their allies have sharply criticized the Vatican over leaked drafts of the document that reiterate its opposition to unions between gays and lesbians.

“I ask you to pray in a particular way for these two events, so that together we can find ways to help one another and to care for the family,” said Francis, according to Vatican Radio.

Francis on Tuesday arrived at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland.

Secretary of State John Kerry, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and retired New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the more than 15,000 people who are expected to attend a White House ceremony on Wednesday with President Obama and Francis. The pope later in the day will meet with U.S. bishops at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Northwest Washington before celebrating Mass at the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception during which he will canonize Junípero Serra.

Francis on Thursday is slated to address Congress and visit St. Patrick’s Catholic Church and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington before traveling to New York.

The pontiff will travel to Philadelphia before returning to Rome on Sept. 27.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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