Pope Francis' trip to Cuba will focus on families, the young and
strengthening the church
BY MIMI WHITEFIELD
In the shadow of a giant image of Argentine Che Guevara, workmen are in
the final stages of building the altar where Argentina-born Pope Francis
will celebrate mass in the Plaza de la Revolución during his four-day
visit to Cuba next month.
Tens of thousands of Cubans are expected to attend three masses in
Havana, Holguín and El Cobre, which is outside Santiago, during the
pope's visit. Some 1,000 pilgrims from abroad, including 150 from the
Archdiocese of Miami, also are expected in Cuba.
It falls to Rolando Suárez, lawyer for the Cuban Conference of Catholic
Bishops, to coordinate the logistics for international pilgrims and to
organize buses and other transport for Cubans from around the country
who want to attend the masses and take part in other papal activities.
The church calculates that 32,000 Cubans from Sancti Spíritus to Pinar
del Río will attend the mass in Havana as well as 16,000 nuns, priests
and seminarians and tens of thousands from Havana itself, Suárez said.
The mass in Holguín is expected to pull in 34,000 of the faithful from
Ciego de Ávila to Guantánamo, not counting residents of the provincial
In El Cobre, an old copper mining town, mass will be celebrated in the
minor basilica of the National Sanctuary of Our Lady of Charity del
Cobre, Cuba's patron saint. Some 1,000 people — with representation from
each Cuban province — are expected to be seated inside the basilica with
another 2,000 outside.
Afterward, Francis plans a "family encounter" with 30 people from each
of Cuba's provinces at Santiago's Cathedral of Our Lady of Assumption
before leaving Cuba on Tuesday to continue his trip to Washington, D.C.
— where he will meet with President Barack Obama at the White House and
address a joint session of Congress — New York and Philadelphia. He'll
return to Rome on Sept. 27.
The pontiff's visit to both countries points up his role in encouraging
a rapprochement between the two formerly hostile neighbors. The two
countries reestablished diplomatic relations and opened respective
embassies on July 20 after a gap of more than a half-century.
Last September, before the history-making rapprochement was announced on
Dec. 17, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the archbishop of Havana, hand-delivered
a letter from Pope Francis to the White House offering to help in
whatever way he could in the secret negotiations going on between the
two countries. Francis, who sent a personal letter to Cuban leader Raúl
Castro, too, offered the Vatican as one of the meeting places for the talks.
The pope impressed the leaders. Obama has called him "the real deal,"
and Castro has said he will be at all three masses in Cuba and might
even consider a return to the Catholic Church.
Castro will get his chance to attend a papal mass when Francis delivers
the homily at the 9 a.m. mass on Sept. 20 in the Plaza de la Revolución.
Presiding over the 11-acre square are huge representations of Camilo
Cienfuegos, a revolutionary hero who died mysteriously in October 1959,
and Che Guevara, a revolutionary icon. The soaring José Martí Monument
also makes the plaza a must-see for many visitors to Havana.
"The most important thing is what the pope will say," Suárez said. "The
messages will be in the homilies."
Before the mass, the pope wants to shake hands with the people. "We're
asking for that but we will have to wait to see what security says,"
With less than a month to go, evidence of the pope's impending arrival
can be seen from the work underway at the plaza to the posters reading
"Bienvenido (welcome) Francisco" that have begun to pop up around Cuba.
Castro, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez and Eusebio Leal, historian of
Havana, met with Ortega on Monday to discuss preparations for the papal
Getting ready is a challenge because the Vatican only announced in late
April that Francis would be visiting Cuba. When Pope Benedict XVI
visited, there was a year to get ready.
In Miami, the archdiocese's trip to Cuba has been sold out for about two
months, said Mary Ross Agosta, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese.
Vivian Mannerud, president of Airline Brokers, which is organizing the
archdiocese trip, said 100 more people would have gone if there had been
hotel availability. "There is a waiting list," she said.
The Miami group will be on hand to watch the pope's caravan arrive from
the airport. "There will also be a lot of prayers and dinners together,"
said Mannerud, who organized archdiocese trips to Cuba when Pope
Benedict visited in March 2012 and for Pope John Paul II's 1998 trip.
When Benedict visited Havana and Santiago, the Archdiocese of Miami
sponsored two "springtime of faith" excursions to Cuba, one Havana only
trip and another that began in Santiago and ended in Havana. About 300
people, including clergy members, staff and pilgrims, took part in those
This time, there will be 150 local pilgrims who will arrive in Cuba on
Sept. 18 and depart Sept. 21. They'll spend their entire time in Havana,
where Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski will offer masses on Friday and
Saturday evenings at churches yet to be determined.
"He is staying with the pilgrims the whole time," Ross Agosta said. "He
would have liked to travel to Santiago, but transportation seems to be
Santiago is 538 miles from Havana, and Holguín is 456 miles from the
capital, making it difficult to participate in papal activities in more
than one city during Francis' tight schedule.
The archdiocese also is transporting by bus about 50 pilgrims to
Washington where Wenski is among those invited to hear the pope speak
before Congress, and it is taking 60 to 65 of its members to
Philadelphia to see Francis.
If the number of international pilgrims coming to Cuba seems low, it's
probably because Latin Americans have already had a chance to see
Francis this year during his eight-day trip to Bolivia, Ecuador and
Paraguay in June, and because of his upcoming U.S. trip.
The pope is expected to arrive at Havana's José Martí International
Airport at 4:05 p.m. Sept. 19 and give a speech before departing in an
open car that will take him through some heavily populated areas of the
city. A children's choir will greet him at the Nunciatura Apostólic
where he'll spend the night.
After the mass Sunday, he has a private lunch, a 4 p.m. meeting with
Raúl Castro, vespers with priests, nuns and seminarians at Havana's
Cathedral and what's billed as a greeting and remarks to 5,000 young
people at the Father Félix Varela Cultural Center in the old San Carlos
and San Ambrosio seminary. Among the center's academic offerings is a
master's degree in business administration to support the economic
changes in Cuba that have allowed people to go into business for themselves.
"FEUC [the Federation of Cuban University Students] asked for this
meeting and the pope accepted," said Suárez. Increasingly, young people
are choosing to abandon the island in search of better opportunities
It's unclear whether the pope will meet with dissidents as they have
requested. Suárez said he doesn't think he will. "This is a pastoral
visit," he said.
The next day, Francis will deliver the homily at a mass celebrated in
Holguín's Revolution Square before heading to Santiago in the late
evening where he'll spend most of his time in El Cobre before departing
for Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, D.C. at 12:30 p.m. Sept. 22.
Source: Pope Francis' trip to Cuba will focus on families, the young and
strengthening the church | Miami Herald -