Monday, September 21, 2015

Cuba: Pope Francis celebrates Mass in Havana

Standing in the symbolic heart of political Cuba, Pope Francis on Sunday began his first full day in the island nation with an outdoor Mass at Revolution Plaza attended by President Raúl Castro and other leaders, and later met with the country’s former leader, Fidel Castro.

At Revolution Plaza, Francis arrived at about 8:30 a.m. in his familiar open-air popemobile, which moved through the crowd of thousands of people before delivering him to a covered stage for the service. Francis praised the vibrancy of the Cuban people and urged them to pursue a Christian model of selfless service.

“Whatever wishes to be great must serve others, not be served by others,” Francis said during his homily.

The scene blended faith, politics and revolution: Huge portraits of two revolutionary heroes, Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos, overlook the square, which also had large banners of Jesus and Mother Teresa. Francis was scheduled for a private meeting later in the day with President Castro. Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, president of Francis’ native Argentina, also was in attendance.

In such a political setting, Francis made his most directly political remarks not about Cuba but on the Colombia peace talks underway here in Havana. Francis urged negotiators for the Colombian government and the FARC rebels to find a solution and end the decades-old conflict in their country.

“We do not have the right to allow ourselves yet another failure on this path of peace and reconciliation,” Francis said at the end of the Mass.

Afterward, the pope went to the home of Fidel Castro for what was described as informal visit with the leader of Cuba’s 1959 revolution. A papal spokesman said that Francis gave Mr. Castro a copy of his encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si,” and several books. The meeting lasted about 40 minutes.

Francis’s trip through Cuba offers a telling look at unique challenges, and influence, that the first Latin American pontiff has obtained in his native region. He is part rock star, part diplomat and part politician — even as his overriding priority is spiritual, and focused here on the Cuban church.

His outsized profile has also lifted expectations and pressures that he takes public positions on charged issues, like political and religious freedom. Cuban dissidents are pushing for the pope to meet them.

At the outdoor Mass, Francis cited the biblical story of the disciples quarreling over their importance — and Jesus’ rebuke of them — as an object lesson against “those who would be chosen for privileges, who would be above the common law, the general norm, in order to stand out in their quest for superiority over others.”

A spectrum of Cubans, from the devout to the secular, turned out to see the Mass, filling the entire plaza. Waves of people cheered and snapped photographs as he passed.

1 comment:

graynomad said...

Great report!