Francis later went to the Palace of the Revolution, where he held private talks for about an hour with President Raul Castro, Fidel’s 84-year-old younger brother.
According to legend, locals first saw a statue of Cuba’s patron saint, Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, floating in the Holguin bay in 1612 after a storm.
Such criticisms have endeared him to Castro, who vowed earlier this year that if Francis kept it up, he would return to the Catholic Church.
Pope Francis will celebrate Mass in Cuba’s eastern cities of Holguin and Santiago before he flies out today to the U.S., where he will meet President Barack Obama and address both the US Congress and the United Nations.
Pope Francis traveled to Cuba’s fourth-largest city, Holguin, Monday and celebrated a Mass where Cuban rhythms mixed with church hymns under a scorching tropical Sunday.
The meeting brought together the leader who shaped Cuba and inspired millions of Latin Americans over the last half of the 20th century and the region’s first pope, whom many Cubans credit with opening a path to the future by mediating the warming of diplomatic relations between their country and the United States. Two prominent opponents, Miriam Leiva and Martha Beatriz Roque, said they were twice detained to stop them attending papal events.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, confirmed that some dissidents were invited to events to receive a greeting from the pope but said he didn’t know why it didn’t come to pass.
The Argentinian Pope gave Castro a copy of his encyclical on the environment and a selection of books, including one written by an Italian priest called Alessandro Pronzato and a Spanish Jesuit Armando Llorente.
At least three Cuban dissidents were arrested outside of the Plaza of the Revolution as Francis delivered mass there, the BBC reported.
“There is a kind of service which truly serves”, the Pope preached during his homily, “yet we need to be careful not to be tempted by another kind of service, a service which is self-serving”.
“Cuba is an archipelago, facing all directions, with an extraordinary value as a key between north and south, east and west. Its natural vocation is to be a point of encounter for all peoples to join in friendship”, he said in a speech at the airport. “Reconciliation… lifting of the blockade and the relationship with whole world will be peace”.
HANDOUT/REUTERS/ Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (l.) greets Pope Francis after a mass in Havana’s Revolution Square in Cuba.
The Vatican has said the Pope believes religious freedom in Cuba means more than the ability to worship freely. Tomorrow, he’s scheduled to arrive in Washington, D.C., at 4 p.m.
It has also taken on the part of mediator with Castro’s brother and successor Raul, who took power in 2006, as he undertakes tentative reforms.