A message from the pope as he heads to Cuba as pilgrim and missionary

Speaking and looking very much like a grandfather-friend as he spoke to the camera, Pope Francis sent Thursday a brief video message to Cubans ahead of his upcoming trip. He heads to the island Saturday as a “missionary of mercy,” he said, but also as a a pilgrim, a son looking forward to visiting his mother’s house — referencing a planned visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, the country’s revered patron saint.

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He said he has a simple message to transmit: “Jesus loves you very much.” Jesus never abandons, but “comforts us, gives us new hope, new opportunities, new life,” said the pope.

After arriving in the capital Saturday afternoon and celebrating Mass there the following day, he is expected to visit Holguin, on the eastern end of the island, then Santiago de Cuba, the country’s second largest city. He then will head to the nearby town of El Cobre to pray at the shrine that honors the country’s patron saint, who is revered by many of the island’s denizens, not just Catholics.

He thanked those in Cuba who have been praying ahead of his trip and encouraged them, too, to be missionaries of God’s mercy.

“Be missionaries of that love, which is infinite,” he said. “Make sure no one is lacking the testimony of our faith, of our love.”

That love helps us arrive at forgiveness, helps to support others, helps to give hope, he said.

He spoke of his admiration for the faith of Cubans.

“It does me a lot of good to think of your fidelity to the Lord,” he said.

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