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Cuba prepares for arrival of Pope Francis

Cuba prepares for arrival of Pope Francis

Pontiff expected to touch down at 4:05 p.m. Saturday
Large group of Miami pilgrims in Cuba for the visit
Miami archbishop mistaken for ‘pope’s cousin’
BY MIMI WHITEFIELD
mwhitefield@miamiherald.com

When Pope Francis arrives in Cuba late Saturday afternoon he’ll find a
country in transition that is forging a new relationship with the United
States and undertaking economic change but not nearly fast enough to
satisfy the needs and desires of most Cubans.

But he will also encounter at least one constant: The same Communist
government in power as when the 78-year-old pope was studying as a
Jesuit novice named Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

The Argentina-born pontiff also comes to the island at a time when many
Cubans are thirsting for a message of hope and searching for a way
forward. That the first Latin American pope will be speaking to them in
their native language could make his message even more powerful.

In a short “fraternal” greeting televised Thursday night in Cuba,
Francis said he would visit the Cuban people to “share the faith and
hope.” The pope said he had a very simple message for them: “Jesus loves
you very much, Jesus sincerely loves you; he always carries you in his
heart… He never abandons us.”

He said he would be visiting the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity of El
Cobre, the patron saint of Cuba, as just another pilgrim, “like a son
that wants to arrive at the home of his mother. To her I entrust this
trip and also I entrust it to all Cubans.”

The pope will visit three Cuban cities, Havana, Holguín and Santiago, as
well as El Cobre, an old copper mining town outside Santiago where he
will deliver the homily during a Mass celebrated at the shrine.

Ahead of the visit, Barack Obama and Cuban leader Raúl Castro
talked by telephone Friday about the upcoming United Nations General
Assembly that Castro will attend for the first time. They also discussed
the approaching visit of the pope and the contribution of the pontiff in
bringing the two countries together.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez says the government has worked
hard to make the visit “memorable” and one a pope such as Francis
“deserves for his tenure as pope, for his positions that inspire
admiration in Latin America and the Caribbean and in our people and for
his being the first Latin American pope.”

He said he expected the papal trip would be “ a transcendent event for
all our people — believers and non-believers alike.”

On Friday an excited group of nearly 200 pilgrims from South Florida and
around the United States arrived in Havana for the first leg of the
pope’s visit.

Irma Henneberg, who was traveling with her husband Bernard and daughter
Joanne Tyson on the Miami archdiocese trip, called it a “once in a
lifetime journey. When else would we be able to see the pope in Cuba?”

Henneberg, of Weston, celebrated her birthday Thursday and said she’s
praying that her birthday present will be a blessing from Pope Francis.

The two-time breast cancer survivor said she became more religious after
her illness. “I think the Lord has kept me here for a reason so I can
work for him and bring people to him,” she said.

Archbishop Thomas Wenski, who wore a Panama hat, said all the pilgrims
were filled with excitement and expectation.

At the , Wenski was mobbed by journalists. Cubans waiting for
their relatives to arrive wondered what all the commotion was about and
who was the man dressed in black and wearing a Panama. “It’s the pope’s
cousin,” said one.

The road from the airport, which Francis will follow into the city, was
lined with large banners and billboards saying Bienvenido a Cuba Papa
Francisco (Welcome to Cuba Pope Francis) and people decorated their
doors, windows and even a market stand with smaller poster versions of
the billboards.

The facade of the National Library, which faces the plaze where the
papal Mass will be held, is blanketed with a huge rendering of Jesus
that says “Come to me.”

Cubans said they were genuinely happy that the pope is coming and hope
everyone from Communist Party militants to non-believers to devote
Catholics express their appreciation for the pope’s visit.

“It’s absolutely magnificent to have Pope Francis with us, a pope who
above all is Latin American and understands much better what we’re
living,” said Siliva Johoy, a sports for Radio Rebelde. “Of
course, I’m going to the Mass and I imagine that the plaza will be so
full that not another person will fit.”

She said she hoped that the pope’s visit would “do something to get rid
of the bloqueo (blockade, the Cuban term for the ). The blockade
just doesn’t make any sense.”

Those taking part in the pilgrimage organized by the Archdiocese of
Miami planned to stake out a place in a Miramar park to watch as the
pope traveled from the Havana airport to the Vatican’s Nunciatura. He
was scheduled to touch down at José Martí International Airport at 4:05
p.m. Saturday. He’ll leave Cuba at noon Tuesday for a visit to the
United States that includes Washington, D.C., New York and Philadelphia.

“This is my third papal pilgrimage, and each one was uniquely
different,” said Vivian Mannerud, who helped the archdiocese organize
trips when Pope John Paul II visited Cuba in 1998 and when Pope Benedict
XVI came in 2012. “Having seen this pope in action, I think whatever
happens will be a total surprise.”

Rodríguez also noted Francis’ role in Cuba’s evolving relationship with
the United States. The two countries reestablished diplomatic relations
on July 20 after 18 months of secret negotiations that included meetings
in the Vatican and letters of encouragement from the pope to both Obama
and Castro.

“Cubans on both sides of the Florida Straits should take advantage of
the opportunity to build bridges,” said Rev. Gilbert Walker, rector at
the Nuestra Señora de La Merced church in Old Havana. “It’s a good thing
that has happened and I think it’s wonderful that the pope has helped
behind the scenes.”

“The people here are very excited about his visit,” he said. “There is a
freshness and directness to his approach. He is coming as a missionary
of mercy and that message of reconciliation, forgiveness and healing is
one that we all need to hear.”

The Miami-based Foundation for in Cuba notes that during
previous papal visits dissidents and human rights activists had their
phones cut off, and that some were prevented from leaving their homes
and were otherwise harassed.

Francis once called for transformation of Cuba’s political institutions,
free participation of its citizens in governance and for respect and
promotion of human rights, the FHRC said. In a joint statement, the
Cuban American National Foundation and the FHRC urged the pope “to pay
special attention in his visit to today’s Cuba, whose authoritarian
regime still excludes the important tenants he once professed for the
betterment of the Cuban people, and all mankind.”

The Ladies in White, a group that marches in support of
political prisoners, has asked to speak with the pope during his visit
and plans to attend his masses but no such meeting appears on Francis’
official itinerary. The pope, however, is expected to dip into the crowd
and personally greet Cubans before a huge Sunday Mass at the Plaza de la
Revolución.

The Miami pilgrims will attend Mass at La Merced Monday morning before
they leave Cuba. As they return home, Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski
will follow the pope for his appearances in Holguín and El Cobre.

In some ways, La Merced typifies the challenges the Catholic Church
faces in Cuba. The Baroque church is in the midst of a marginal
neighborhood and like a growing number of Catholic churches here, it is
actively involved in social programs for nearby residents.

The church also draws adherents of Afro-Cuban religions who have
syncretized Our Lady of Mercy with Obatalá, the orisha or god known as
the creator of mankind, and is a magnet for the white-clad initiates of
Santería..

The reality of religion in Cuba, Walker said, is there is a spectrum of
belief from those who are devout Catholics or Protestants to Catholics
who are sympathetic to Santería and those who are dedicated Santeria
devotees.

While he said the church does draw the distinction of what Catholicism
is all about, at the same time it does try to be welcoming to all. He
likened religious belief in Cuba to ajiaco, a stew of various meats and
vegetables prepared across the Caribbean and Latin America. “I think the
Cuban religious experience is a lot like ajiaco — a lot of elements go
into it.”

Follow @heraldmimi for updates on the pope’s trip to Cuba.

Source: Cuba prepares for arrival of Pope Francis | Miami Herald –
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article35775903.html

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