Pope Francis visits eastern Cuba on eve of U.S. trip
Rick Jervis, USA TODAY 8:48 p.m. EDT September 21, 2015
SANTIAGO DE CUBA — Placards on cars. Banners in the street. Overall buzz
in the air.
Residents of this eastern Cuban city received Pope Francis on Monday
with the enthusiastic fervor that has followed him throughout this
Earlier in the day, the pontiff spoke to thousands in Holguin, 70 miles
north of here, recounting the tale of Jesus and a despised tax collector.
“Do you believe it is possible that a tax collector can be a servant?”
he asked those gathered. “Do you believe it is possible that a traitor
can become a friend?”
The pope is three days into his four-day venture through Cuba, after
which he will head to the USA on Tuesday for visits to Washington, New
York City and Philadelphia.
Throughout Cuba, people have been as interested in him for the role he
played in helping to re-establish ties between the United States and
Cuba as to the spiritual messages he delivers. The pope sent personal
letters to Presidents Obama and Raúl Castro, urging them to end their
longtime Cold War enmity and offering the Vatican as a neutral meeting
place. Those efforts culminated with the reopening of embassies in each
country this year.
“He’s eliminated that discord between our two countries,” said Ernesto
Gomez, 27, a restaurant food supplier in Santiago de Cuba. “It’s a true
blessing to have him here.”
Monday night, Francis visited a shrine in nearby El Cobre dedicated to
Our Lady of Charity, the patron saint of Cuba, capping another long,
busy day for the 78-year-old pontiff. He’s scheduled to lead a Mass at
the shrine Tuesday morning and visit the main cathedral in Santiago de
Cuba before flying to Joint Base Andrews to begin his U.S. visit.
Two unscripted speeches on Sunday — one inside Havana Cathedral and
another to students in front of an adjoining cultural center — drew the
most animated responses. They displayed the spontaneity and
down-to-earth quality that has made Francis one of the most popular
popes in recent history.
In his speech to students, the pontiff urged the gathered youth to
“dream big” and join together rather than venture alone when striving
toward their goals.
In closing, he asked the youth to pray for him. “And if you’re not a
believer, at least wish upon me good things,” he said.
A Cuban opposition group, Ladies in White, reported that nearly two
dozen members were blocked by Cuban security agents from attending the
pope’s Sunday Mass in Havana, and two other dissidents said they were
detained after the Vatican invited them to the pope’s vespers service at
Havana’s cathedral, the AP reported.
The Vatican spokesman, Federico Lombardi, confirmed that dissidents were
invited to events to receive a greeting from the pope, but he didn’t
know why they didn’t arrive.
Sunday, the pontiff met with Fidel Castro, presenting the former Cuban
revolutionary leader with several books, CDs of homilies and two
encyclicals, including his famous Laudato Si, which called for greater
social focus on climate change. He also met with his brother Raúl.
Source: Pope Francis visits eastern Cuba on eve of U.S. trip –