Bishop's Column

The pope in Mexico and Cuba: 'Viva Cristo Rey!'

This week, Pope Benedict XVI will travel to Guanajuato, Mexico, and to Havana, Cuba, to pray and worship with millions of Mexican and Cuban Catholics.

In Mexico, the Holy Father will visit with bishops, priests, religious and laity, and will celebrate Mass with nearly a half-million people. Pope Benedict is also likely to visit and bless a 60-foot statue honoring Christ the King in the mountains outside the historic city of Guanajuato.

When Pope Benedict visits Cuba, he will celebrate Mass in Havana and Santiago, and he will meet with cultural and political leaders.

One of our own Denver priests, Cuban-born Father Frank Garcia, pastor of St. John the Evangelist in Loveland, will be traveling to Cuba for the papal visit. Father Frank hopes to be reunited with a first cousin, whom he has never met face-to-face.

The Holy Father's pastoral visits will witness to the vibrancy and vitality of the Church in Latin America and to the enduring impact of evangelization in developing authentic Christian culture.

The Church has deep roots in Latin America. In Mexico, Catholic culture began with Franciscan missionaries five centuries ago, who brought the Gospel to ancient native cultures. Christians have been present in Cuba since Christopher Columbus landed on the island in 1492.

Both Cuba and Mexico have long and rich histories of Catholic evangelization and identity. In both countries, though, the Church has been influenced by periods of serious persecution by anti-religious, atheocratic governments openly hostile to Catholics. Last week, Cardinal Timothy Dolan observed that "hardship, sacrifice, tough choices, harassment, ridicule, standing for Gospel values, loyalty to our faith to the point of persecution or even blood—that's the recipe for a deep, sincere, dynamic faith."

Certainly in Mexico and Cuba, periods of persecution helped strengthen a deep, sincere, dynamic faith. Consider the example of Blessed Miguel Agustin Pro. Father Miguel Pro was a Jesuit priest who provided pastoral ministry and the sacraments to Catholics during a period of religious persecution perpetrated by the government of Mexico during the 1920s. In 1927, Father Pro was accused, falsely, of attempting to assassinate ex-President Alvaro Obregon. Without a fair trial, Father Pro was executed by a firing squad. He died proclaiming "Viva Cristo Rey!"—"Long live Christ the King!"

Thousands of Mexican lay Catholics were martyred and hundreds of priests were killed or exiled with the same expressions of victory on their lips: "Viva Cristo Rey! Viva la Virgen de Guadalupe! (Long live the Virgin of Guadalupe!)"

Similarly, in Cuba, many Catholics in recent decades have worked at personal peril to keep the Gospel present in a country where the communist government is hostile to the Church, to religion and to the basic dignity of the human person.

As the United States becomes increasingly hostile to people of faith—particularly to Catholics, I pray that we too will experience a period of deep, sincere, dynamic faith. I pray that we will look to the examples of Mexican and Cuban Catholics, who have allowed periods of persecution to more deeply form their Catholic identity. I pray that we will awaken to the dignity and sanctity of the human person and work to protect our precious religious liberties, despite cultural and political pressure to the contrary.

As Catholics in America face injustice, I pray that we, like Blessed Miguel Pro, will proudly proclaim "Long live Christ the King!"

The Holy Father's visit to Latin America is also an opportunity to recognize the extraordinary impact of Latin-American culture on the Church in the Archdiocese of Denver. Catholicism in Colorado is greatly enriched, and is in fact defined, by the impact of the many Hispanic priests, religious and lay Catholics who minister and pray in the parishes of northern Colorado. We are one in baptism, but our diversity expresses the universality of God's love for his people.

Join me in praying for the Holy Father's mission to Mexico and Cuba. Join me in imitating the heroic Blessed Miguel Pro and the unsung martyrs of Mexico and Cuba. And join me in proclaiming that in our diversity, Catholics are truly "One family under God."

Most Rev. James D. Conley, S.T.L., is Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Denver.

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