The announcement of Pope Francis’ upcoming visit to Cuba has brought tremendous joy and hope to the people of the island nation, said a local bishop. “The first word that comes to mind is ‘joy.’ It’s a gift from God, who never ceases to surprise us,” said Bishop Wilfredo Pino of Guantanamo-Baracoa. In a statement to CNA, the prelate observed, “It’s true that God does not give us everything in this life, but he certainly has been giving a lot to the Church and the Cuban people lately.” “We are receiving gift after gift, or as the Psalm says we are ‘harvesting with singing.’ You can also notice this joy in a lot of people when they comment on the news, because it brings with it a lot of hope to our hearts.” Cuba is one of the few countries that has received a visit from the last three consecutive popes. Saint John Paul II came to the island in 1998 and Pope Benedict XVI came 14 years later. Pope Francis has announced that he will come before his trip to the United States in September. Bishop Pino explained that these visits are a much-needed sign of hope. He recalled that “as a young priest, I was present at the last moments of my elderly parish priest. Our Church was going through difficult times. He died repeating Jesus’ words to the Apostle Nathaniel. Being an elderly priest, he said them in Latin: ‘Maiora videbis, maiora videbis’ (‘You will see greater things than this’-- John 1:50) “And thus he departed as his life faded away. I have to admit I interpreted his words with the opposite meaning. I thought he was saying, ‘Get ready because even harder times are coming.’ And it turns out that just the opposite is coming about.” The bishop continued: “During each of the papal visits, I remembered him and his ‘maiora videbis.’ And truly all of us, all of Cuba, are seeing better things. Who would have told us 25 years ago that three popes would visit us?” He said that the upcoming September visit “is a challenge for Cuba and our Church.  We have to be on the same plane that God is working on with Cuba and our Church.” Bishop Pino told CNA that “it’s no secret that this visit comes within the framework of the process of normalizing relations between the United States and Cuba that Pope Francis has helped mediate.” “I think that the reconciliation between governments comes after other reconciliations: with God, with oneself, with your family, with your coworkers or fellow students, with your religious community, etc.,” the prelate explained. In that respect, he said that “each Cuban is called then to make a gesture of reconciliation or mercy toward other Cubans.” Concerning the preparations for the papal visit, the bishop said that “we are going to again take up the mission of going door-to-door and this will give us the opportunity to announce the truth of Jesus Christ that Pope Francis presents so simply.” The local people are already praying for the fruits of the upcoming visit, he said. During his pontificate, Pope Francis has made several gestures of his closeness to the Church in Cuba. Most prominent is the letter he sent to the Cuban people last year on the occasion of the feast of Our Lady of Charity of Cobre, patroness of the country. A statue of the Virgin was placed in the Vatican gardens the month before. In 2014, the Pope also made the decision to make this Cuban Marian feast a “Solemnity” to be celebrated on September 8.   In January 2014, the pope also granted the Cathedral of Carmaguey the title of minor basilica, and in June he replied to a letter from 12 seminarians from Saint Basil the Great Seminary in the town of Santiago de Cuba, encouraging them to become priests that carry out their pastoral ministry with joy, constancy and humility.