In preparation for Pope Francis’ visit to Cuba this fall, the bishops of the island nation are asking the faithful to perform acts of mercy during the first Fridays of July, August and September. “Pope Francis never stops talking about mercy,” the bishops said in a June 29 message. “The first Sunday after his election, he mentioned it 13 times. And he just recently called for the celebration of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy which will begin December 8 this year and conclude November 20, 2016.” Mercy “is nothing less than ‘reaching out with our heart’ to others,” the bishops continued. “Sometimes it seems we live in a heartless world. Everywhere we come across moral, spiritual, social, intellectual, physical and material poverty…and we also find people who have hardened their hearts in the face of human suffering.” In light of this situation, and to prepare for the Pope’s Sept. 19-22 visit, the Cuban bishops asked people to perform works of mercy for those in need on the first Fridays of the next three months. They also requested “special times of prayer and fasting,” as well as community prayer vigils Sept. 17-18.   The goal of these initiatives is “to ask for God’s help so that he would dispose the hearts of all Cubans so they would listen to and receive the message of hope and mercy that Pope Francis will bring to us,” they stated. Pope Francis “wants to show us his closeness at a moment when, thanks to his mediation, hope has been breathed into our national life by the new possibilities of dialogue that are taking place between the United States and Cuba,” the bishops continued. “What he is doing is very great and important, as the universal pastor of the Church, in searching for reconciliation and peace among all the peoples of the earth.” Recalling visits to Cuba by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, the prelates voiced excitement for the Pope’s visit as a “Missionary of Mercy.” “We, the bishops of Cuba, are praying that the teachings that Pope Francis will give us will move all of us to grow in faith and hope, so we may be able to learn to have a heart full of mercy for everyone.”