Pope Francis visits Cuba and celebrates mass at Havana’s Revolution Plaza attracting hundreds of thousands of people, both Catholics and non-Catholics, on Sunday.
The Holy Father’s controversial trip to Cuba, comes ahead of a much-anticipated and equally controversial trip to the United States. The Vatican played a central role in negotiations that ended the decades old U.S. imposed embargo on Cuba, which prohibited doing business and traveling to the island nation.
Pope Francis visits Cuba in his role as leader of the Catholic Church and his message to the people is one of hope for a better future. Those attending the mass at Revolution Plaza waved Cuban, Vatican, and Argentinian flags in honor of the Pontiff. Traditional Cuban and religious songs were played and the Pope smiled and waved, stopping to kiss babies several times.
As with any massive event, Pope Francis’ visit to Cuba is mostly religious despite the political undertones and role of the Vatican in bringing renewed diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba. Many dissidents who fled the island in the wake of Fidel Castro’s rise to power feel betrayed by the Pope, as he has seemingly all but forgotten the countless political prisoners still being held by the Communist government.
During his visit to Cuba, Pope Francis is not expected to meet with the dissident community, which continues to accuse the Castro brothers of human rights crimes against its members. It has been reported, the Holy Father will bring up freedoms in Cuba when he meets with President Raul Castro.
Dissidents are looking for the Cuban government to loosen freedom of the press, which has been greatly controlled since the revolution between 1953 and 1959. Additionally, the Catholic population had trusted Pope Francis to bring changes to what they say are violations of their freedom of religion.
Despite these controversies, Pope Francis visits Cuba amid incredible enthusiasm and many of those attending the mass at Revolution Plaza are hopeful, according to CBC.
“This is very important for us,” said Mauren Gomez, 40, who traveled from Villa Clara to Havana by bus with four friends to attend Pope Francis’ mass. They prayed the rosary during their pilgrimage.
But not everyone who attended Pope Francis’ mass in Havana is religious and many came to witness a historic event in Cuba. Such is the case of 54-year-old worker Jose Rafael Velazquez, who arrived with his wife three-hours before the mass began.
“We also are very hopeful for this visit, because the Pope was key in the deal with the United States. Ever since the announcement, there have been changes and this visit gives me more hope that it’ll get better.”
Following his visit to Cuba, Pope Francis heads to the U.S. on September 22, where he will visit Washington D.C. to meet with President Obama, New York City, and Philadelphia.
[Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images]