Pope Francis arrived in Cuba on Saturday to a crowd of well wishers and proceeded to capture the attention of the whole country for the next two days.
Pope Francis led Mass for thousands in Revolution Square, and was set to deliver two more. This, in a country whose leader founded a socialist state on atheistic principles. Religious freedom in Cuba has improved greatly over the decades, starting in the 1980’s and in 1992 amending the constitution to drop the atheistic characterization. Today an estimated 59% of Cubans identify themselves as Christian.
The Pope met with both Raul and Fidel Castro, exchanging books with Fidel and exchanging objects of art with Raul. Raul, who does not practice a religion, did attend Mass with the Pope.
Upon his arrival at Josi Marti Airport, the Pope hailed the U.S. and Cuba for reestablishing diplomatic relations following its long history of estrangement, holding this new development as a model for reconciliation for the world.
“I urge political leaders to persevere on this path and to develop all its potentialities as a proof of the high service which they are called to carry out on behalf of the peace and well-being of their peoples, of all America, and as an example of reconciliation for the entire world.”
Pope Francis will continue on to the U.S. on Tuesday, with scheduled meeting in the White House, then on to New York and Philadelphia. You can find his agenda here.
Author’s note: Thousands of Cuban Americans fled Cuba during the Cuban revolution and throughout the decades as refugees, having had their homes and properties confiscated. They are rightfully bitter that Obama has reestablished ties with Cuba. The Pope’s visit there could help to lessen tensions and bring about new attitudes between these people and their homeland. The Castro brothers are both very old and won’t last much longer.