Ahead of his first USA visit, Pope Francis celebrated mass in Cuba Sunday before hundreds of thousands of worshipers in Havana’s Revolution Square. Even though the meeting was not formally on the Pope’s schedule, the Vatican had already signaled that a meeting was possible.
Cuba’s Roman Catholic Church has slowly won the space to do charitable works on the island after years of hostilities with former leader Fidel Castro’s regime, which was officially atheist for more than three decades. Francis thanked Castro for his recent pardon of some 3,522 prisoners; the two exchanged gifts and spoke for about 40 minutes before the pope went on to speak with Castro’s younger brother and Cuba’s current leader Raúl, The Associated Press reported.
Speaking in his homily at a large outdoor Mass in Holguin’s Revolution Plaza, the pontiff says Christ challenges us daily to believe in the possibility of personal transformation.
Pope Francis will become the first pope of Latin America to celebrate a canonization mass on US soil.
Half the island’s priests are foreigners as it struggles to recruit clergy in a country where only 10 per cent of the population describes itself as Catholic.
Pope Francis was flying to eastern Cuba yesterday for the next leg of his pilgrimage after having met with both Raul and Fidel Castro but missing out on an encounter with Cuban dissidents.
And late today, Francis traveled to Santiago to visit the shrine of Cuba’s patron saint, the Virgin of Charity.
“Service is never ideological”, he said, as President Raul Castro and senior members of his communist government looked on.
One of two unidentified men is grabbed by a security officer after they threw leaflets as Pope Francis arrives for Mass at Revolution Plaza in Havana, Cuba, Sunday, September 20, 2015.
“Some of you were able to visit Cuba on the historic visit of Pope Benedict XVI in 2012, but under very different diplomatic circumstances, so a lot can happen in a few years”, he said.
A priest holds up the Gospel book as Pope Francis arrives for Mass…
Following the meeting with Castro, Francis presided over a vespers service at the Immaculate Conception and San Cristobal cathedral.
Upon his arrival, Francis urged the U.S. and Cuba to persevere with their rapprochement – setting “an example of reconciliation for the entire world“.