Pope Francis began his tour of Cuba on Saturday, meeting with Cuban leaders and conducting a Mass attended by thousands.
USA Today reports that the Pope met with former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and current Cuban president, Raúl Castro. The leaders both exchanged gifts with the Pope, and a papal spokesman reported that Francis’ meeting with Fidel Castro was very informal.
The Pope rode through the streets of Cuba amid celebration from thousands of enthusiastic and excited papal supporters. He blessed a 101-year-old woman who had faithfully attended every papal visit to Cuba within her lifetime.
“It’s wonderful,” the woman’s nephew said. “That was her lifelong dream.”
The Pope delivered a homily which emphasized the Church’s role in ministering to the poor.
“The call to serve involves something special, to which we must be attentive,” Francis said “Serving others chiefly means caring for the vulnerable.”
The 78-year-old Argentinian Pope addressed the crowd in his native Spanish, becoming the first Pope who was able to do so.
The Pope has been influential in advocating for peace between the United States and Cuba, sending letters to both President Obama and President Castro, urging them to end the hostility that has festered between the United States and Cuba since the Cold War.
Francis’ visit to Cuba directly precedes his visit to the United States. He is scheduled to fly into Washington D.C. on Tuesday. He will also visit New York and Philadelphia on his U.S. tour.
There have been three papal visits to Cuba in just two decades, but this is Pope Francis’ first visit to the island.
Although most Cubans received the Pope gladly, USA Today reports that there were some dissidents. It is reported that 30 dissidents were arrested, most before they could reach the plaza where the Pope was conducting Mass.
Publication date: September 21, 2015