A pontiff unafraid to look Castro right in the eye: Pope gives Fidel a book of sermons by Jesuit teacher forced to flee from his communist regime and makes speech against ‘service to ideology’ on historic meeting and tour of Cuba
- Pope Francis told crowd of hundreds of thousands gathered in the Communist country to serve people, not ideas
- Appearing to take aim at Castro he used first Sunday Mass in Cuba to also warn that ‘service is never ideological’
- Catholic leader also called on Colombian government and guerrilla army to end the ‘bloodshed’ in lengthy conflict
- The Mass in Havana’s Revolutionary Square is part of Pope Francis’ ten-day tour of Cuba and the United States
- Upon arrival yesterday, Francis urged U.S. and Cuba to set an example for world by persisting with rapprochement
- The pope will finish his Cuba tour tomorrow when is due to fly out to the U.S. to be greeted by President Obama
Sealed with a handshake – this is the moment that months of political peacemaking by Pope Francis came to a head as he came face-to-face with Cuba’s former revolutionary leader Fidel Castro before the two sat down for an ‘informal’ talk.
But if Castro thought Francis’s visit was only going to be one of celebration, then that illusion was quickly shattered as the Pope used the discussion and a later Mass to deliver a thinly veiled critique of the dictatorial leader and the political dynasty he has forged for himself.
Exchanging gifts with Castro, Francis handed him a selection of books – one of which was written by Spanish priest Rev. Amando Llorente, a former boyhood teacher of Castro who was expelled from Cuba when Fidel came to power.
Then, at a Mass service in Revolution Square this afternoon, Francis told thousands of waiting Cubans that as Christians they should ‘serve people, not ideas’, adding that ‘service is never ideological’.
Coupled with remarks the Pope made yesterday about Cuba providing the country’s Christians with more religious freedom and ‘opening itself up to the world’, it is clear that Francis believes that normalizing relations with the U.S. is just the first step for Cuba. Yesterday, the Holy See also used a speech on arrival to the country to reference a famous Cuban freedom fighter, Jose Marti, and praised him as a ‘fighter of dynasties’, taken by many as a veiled reference to the Castro family. Francis has previously been critical of the Castro regime, calling the family ‘corrupt’ and ‘authoritarian’ and calling for the dictatorship to be replaced with a representative democracy – criticisms he has clearly not forgotten.
Hundreds of thousands had turned out to watch the pontiff’s service this morning, including the current president, Raúl Castro, and president of Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.
Drawing a line between serving to help others, and that in service of one political group, the Catholic leader said: ‘Service is never ideological, for we do not serve ideas, we serve people.’ He added that the faithful ‘are called by virtue of our Christian vocation to that service which truly serves, and to help one another and not to be tempted by a ‘service’ which is really ‘self-serving.’ Speaking in his native Spanish, the first South American pope added: ‘There is a way to go about serving which is interested in only helping ‘my people,’ in the name of ‘our people,’ he said. ‘This service always leaves ‘your people’ outside, and gives rise to a dynamic of exclusion,’ according to the National Catholic Reporter. His words appear to take aim at Castro and the communist regime which many Cubans still complain have control over almost every aspect of life. Anyone who steps out of line or is perceived as being disloyal is at risk of losing their benefits.
But even as he spoke, reports emerged that dozens of activists were being arrested. Cuban site 14ymedio claimed that as many as 30 people had been detained to try and prevent protests at the event. They included four activists of the Patriotic Union of Cuba who attended the Mass and spoke to Pope Francis regarding about the violation of human rights in Cuba and treatment of political prisoners. Twenty members of Ladies in White, an opposition movement in Cuba founded by wives and other female relatives of jailed dissidents,were also said to have been arrested outside their headquarters in Lawton, in the early hours. A local human rights group has since reported that so far, 17 members, including their leader, Berta Soler, have since been released, according to the Guardian.
Francis also urged the crowd to be look after each other and care for their ‘brothers and sisters’, telling them: ‘Serving others chiefly means caring for the vulnerable. God’s holy and faithful people in Cuba is a people with a taste for parties, for friendship, for beautiful things.”It is a people which has its wounds, like every other people, yet knows how to stand up with open arms, to keep walking in hope, because it is a vocation of grandeur.’ Hundreds of thousands of believers and non-believers alike flocked to square to see the pope appear in Havana today, with many traveling miles on buses or trains across long, winding routes through Cuba’s rural heartland for the service.
Francis is seen as something as a hero by many Cubans who credit him with having helped restore diplomatic relations between the United States and the Communist country. Although fewer than a third of Cubans identify as Catholic, many rural Cubans are speaking warmly of the pope’s role in mediating detente between the U.S. and Cuba. Today, he was due to celebrate Mass in Holguin and Santiago after his service in Havana, before flying to the United States on Tuesday, where he will meet Obama and address both the U.S. Congress and United Nations. Before his arrival in Havana, the enthusiastic crowd had been seen singing and clapping for hours before the Mass began. When the Popemobile arrived, circling the crowd, Pope Francis spent time greeting worshipers and kissing youngsters handed up to him before his speech.
Jose Rafael Velazquez, a 54-year-old who came to the plaza with his wife three hours before Mass was due to begin, said that while he’s not religious, he came to witness a historic event. He said: ‘We also are very hopeful for this visit, because the pope was key in the deal with the United States, and ever since the announcement, there have been changes and this visit gives me more hope that it’ll get better.’
The pope also used his Sunday Mass to call on Colombia to put an end to the ‘bloodshed’ and stop South America’s longest-running conflict. Francis urged both sides in the South American country to end a half-century of fighting and not to allow another failure to derail peace efforts from the iconic square, which has been the location of peace talks between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and governmental representatives of the capital Bogota for the past two years. He said: ‘May the blood shed by thousands of innocent people during long decades of armed conflict sustain efforts to find a definitive peace. ‘Please, we do not have the right to allow ourselves yet another failure on this path of peace and reconciliation.’Cuban state-run website Cubadebate has since changed the logo on its homepage and Twitter account in honor of Pope Francis’ visit, AP reported. The usual logo consisting of red and black semicircles and white arrows has been replaced by a graphic representation of the tall papal headgear known as the mitre, emblazoned with a cross. It’s accompanied by the words ‘Welcome to Cuba,’ in Spanish in place of Cubadebate’s usual tagline: ‘Against Media Terrorism.’ On arrival of his first visit to the former Cold War foes after helping broker their historic detente, he gave a short speech to call on Cuba to open itself up to the world, provide more religious freedom for the country’s Christians, and to carry on strengthening ties with other countries.
The head of the Catholic church said: ‘For some months now, we have witnessed an event which fills us with hope: the process of normalizing relations,’ he said. ‘I urge political leaders to persevere on this path – as an example of reconciliation for the entire world.’ Cuban President Raul Castro was at the airport to welcome the pontiff, who will be offering a show of solidarity with Cubans and delivering a message in the United States that Hispanics are the bedrock of the American church. Experts suggested to CNN that Francis used his speech to deliver a veiled critique at the Castro regime, which has been in power for five decades, by referencing famous Cuban freedom fighter Jose Marti. Francis, who has been critical of the Castro family in the past, referenced Marti as a ‘fighter of dynasties’, which some suggested was referring to the Castros, though the Vatican has denied this.
He also said he believes ‘the world is thirsty for peace,’ according to Italian newspaper La Repubblica. The visit boasts several firsts for history’s first Latin American pope – Francis will become the first pontiff to address the U.S. Congress and he will also proclaim the first saint on U.S. soil by canonizing the controversial, and Hispanic, missionary, Junipero Serra.
He will also be following in the footsteps of his predecessors by becoming the third pontiff to visit Cuba in the past 17 years — a remarkable record for any country, much less one with such a tiny Catholic community. Thousands gathered along the route where Pope Francis’s motorcade traveled yesterday, but not everyone in Havana was thrilled at being asked to turn out for the pontiff. State-employed medical office worker Rafael Rivero said he did not want to feel obliged to watch Francis’ motorcade, and said many of his co-workers feel the same way. He said: ‘Sure, go, if you’re a practicing Catholic but it shouldn’t be an obligation on a Saturday afternoon. It’s our day off.’ Cuban officials offered a day’s pay, snacks and transportation to encourage state workers to line the pontiff’s route from the airport to the Papal Ambassador’s home. University students were also recruited. Pope Francis departed from Rome on a special Alitalia flight on Saturday morning to arrive in Havana, where he was greeted as something of a hero to Cubans who credit him with having helped restore diplomatic relations between the United States and the Communist country.
‘We all want to say thank you so much Francis for helping us end this absurd situation we have endured for so long,’ said plumber Osmany Lopez, 63, who plans to be on the streets of Havana to see Francis’ motorcade from the airport today. Better sensitized to the issue than his predecessors due to his Latin American roots, the pontiff issued a personal appeal to Obama and Castro last year to end 50 years of animosity and facilitated a back channel for talks. He later hosted the Cuban and U.S. delegations to finalize the deal. ‘Everybody listens to him because of his prestige,’ said Juana Hurtado, 55, on the eve of the visit in Havana. ‘And he may soften up some hard souls.’ Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, said Francis hopes the rapprochement will soon be followed by the removal of the U.S. embargo, which the Vatican has long opposed. On Friday, the United States eased rules for U.S. citizens wishing to travel to Cuba and simplified procedures for telephone and Internet investments and money transfers to Cuba. Francis is also set to take the world stage at the United Nations to press his agenda on migration, the environment and religious persecution while more than 100 world leaders listen in. It is largely unknown territory for the Argentine Jesuit, who has never visited either country and has confessed that the United States was so foreign to him that he would spend the summer reading up on it. The 78-year-old’s popularity ratings are high in the U.S., although he also has gained detractors, particularly among conservatives over his critiques of the excesses of capitalism. That has endeared him to Cuban President Raul Castro, who vowed earlier this year that if Francis kept it up, he would return to the Catholic Church. But Francis has also been on record criticizing Cuba’s socialist — and atheist — revolution as denying individuals their ‘transcendent dignity.’
But a close Vatican aide of the pope’s, Guzman Carriquiry, said Francis’ key aim in travelling to Cuba was pastoral, not political. He told a recent church conference: ‘When I asked the Holy Father if he’s going to Cuba to follow the negotiations between the U.S. and Cuba, he responded clearly this is neither the motivation nor the objective of the trip. ‘The motive of the trip is to confirm the Catholic faith of Cubans and encourage a church that has suffered in the past decades.’ Asked if Francis would meet with dissidents or speak out about their plight while in the Communist country, Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the issue could come up in private discussions between Francis and Raul Castro, and their respective secretaries of state.’You can discuss problems of this type without dealing with them in clamorous ways,’ Lombardi added.
Francis will travel to the eastern Cuban city of Santiago to pray at the sanctuary of Cuba’s patron saint and stop in the city of Holguin en-route, demonstrating once again his desire to visit places that are often overlooked. And Argentine President Cristina Fernandez is in the Cuban capital on an official visit that coincides with Pope Francis’s visit. Fernandez arrived Saturday morning and is scheduled to meet with President Castro and plans to attend a Mass celebrated by Francis on Sunday at Havana’s Revolution Square.
The pope will arrive in Washington D.C. on September 22 for the start of the U.S. leg of his trip, greeted at Andrews Air Force Base by President Obama and his family. Francis will also visit New York and Philadelphia before returning to Rome on September 28.
The U.S. visit, planned well before the Cuban stop was added on, will be notable for the emphasis Francis is placing on Hispanics. They make up about 38 per cent of adult Catholics in the U.S., according to the CARA research center at Georgetown University. Francis will deliver the vast majority of his speeches in his native Spanish, despite speaking very good English. He will also meet with immigrants on several occasions and bless a wooden cross particularly important to the Hispanic faithful. His canonization of the Spanish-born Junipero Serra, who built missions across California in the 18th century, is aimed at giving today’s Latino Catholics a role model – although Native Americans have opposed the canonization and argued he helped wipe out indigenous populations.
Most importantly, Francis is expected to make immigration one of the major themes of his visit, calling for countries to be more welcoming of migrants seeking a better life for themselves. In particular, he decried the plight of would-be migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, signaling he has no qualms about wading into a politically charged issue in the U.S. presidential campaign. Carriquiry, the No. 2 in the Vatican’s Latin America commission and a longtime friend to Francis, said he expected the pope would reaffirm what American bishops have been saying for years. ‘That Hispanic ministry it is not an add-on to the so-called Anglo-centric official, traditional ministry, but that it has to do with those who already make up almost half of the Catholics in the country, whose evangelization is a main priority of the destiny of Catholicism here,’ he said. Another hot-button issue Francis will raise is religious liberty, following the legalization of gay marriage across the country and continued opposition by the U.S. church to the birth control coverage requirement in the Obama administration’s health care plan. For Francis though, religious liberty also means denouncing the persecution of Christians by Islamic extremists in the Middle East and Africa.
‘IT WILL BE A NIGHTMARE’: NEW YORK BRACED FOR DAYS OF TRANSPORT CHAOS WHEN POPE ARRIVES NEXT WEEK
New York is already one of the world’s busiest, most congested cities, but when the Pope visits next week experts are warning that delays could reach biblical proportions. From 5pm next Thursday key areas of central New York will be subject to a rolling series of closures lasting for three days and sealing off up to 16 blocks at a time along key commuting routes, making it one of the largest programs of street closures ever organized in the city. Authorities are warning commuters to expect delays, and advise taking public transit instead, but with hundreds of thousands of visitors expected trying to catch a glimpse of the Pontiff between stops on his itinerary, officials admit that trains, subways and buses will also be packed. And to make matters even worse, President Obama will also be traveling to New York the same week, along with 170 other world leaders, for a summit at the UN headquarters, also located in the city.
Sam Schwartz, a former Department of Transportation commissioner, told NBC7 that the tailbacks and delays caused by the two events could be the worst the city has ever seen, adding: ‘It will be a nightmare.’While city authorities insist they will be doing everything they can to accommodate visitors, many train services, such as the PATH train which takes commuters from New Jersey into lower Manhattan, already run at or near full capacity, meaning little else can be done to ease congestion.
Authorities also have no clear idea of the number of visitors likely to arrive to see Pope Francis, since his contact with the public will be limited. But at least 80,000 New Yorkers have won a confirmed lottery for a spot on Pope Francis’ motorcade route through Central Park. And they they will have to endure long lines, tight security and hours of waiting before the pontiff even gets there – without being allowed the comfort of chairs, blankets, coolers or umbrellas. But for Suleyma Cuellar, 20, who snagged tickets for her and her mother, it will all be worth it if she can catch even a fleeting glimpse of Francis. ‘It’s like seeing Jesus walk by,’ said the after-school robotics program instructor from East Harlem. The pope’s 12-block processional along the park’s West Drive on Friday was a late addition to his schedule after morning appearances at the United Nations and the September 11 museum and before an evening Mass at Madison Square Garden.
Diana Torres, of Queens, said finding out that she was among those selected to get the tickets was a blessing. ‘I want to go so badly, I asked for this, I put my name on it, I prayed on it,’ she said. The 53-year-old volunteer religious instructor chose to bring her son’s fiance with her, a decision that wasn’t met with universal approval from others around her. ‘There was a family member who was very upset … but I feel OK,’ Torres said. But the controversy over the tickets has not been limited to irate relatives. Only New York state residents were allowed to apply for the ticket lottery, and almost as soon as winners were notified, listings began appearing on eBay and Craigslist offering to sell pairs of tickets for hundreds or even thousands of dollars.‘To attempt to resell the tickets and profit from his time in New York goes against everything Pope Francis stands for,’ In a statement, Cardinal Timothy Dolan said: ‘Those who do go have a list of rules to follow, starting with having to enter the area via assigned security gates. The pope isn’t scheduled to make his processional until 5 p.m., but the gates will be open at 11 a.m. and people have to be there by 3:30 p.m.
Attendees can bring water and snacks, personal cameras and strollers for small children, but that’s it. The list of prohibited items includes alcohol, large bags, signs, and of course, no selfie sticks or drones. That’s all fine with Violeta Celaj, a 30-year-old nutritionist and nursing student in the Bronx, who says she plans to get there by 7 or 8 a.m., water and snacks in hand. ‘I have no words to explain how much that would mean’ to see the pope, she said. When she found out she was going to be able to go, she started screaming in joy, Celaj said. ‘This is better than the lottery.’ Organizers in Philadelphia, where the Pope will travel after visiting New York, are expecting crowds of up to a million for a Festival of Families event due to take place on Saturday evening, that is arguably easier to plan for. Because the crowd will be moving to one particular place at one particular time, it is easier for city authorities to know where the extra demands on capacity will be, and plan accordingly, unlike in New York.
New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton told CBS New York: ‘Traffic in Manhattan is going to be very difficult. It’s always difficult, but it’s going to be even more so. We are strongly encouraging people not to come into Manhattan by vehicle. Get out the sneakers, prepare to do a little walking.’ Businesses are also likely to be badly affected. Workers stationed in any of the offices along the Holy See’s route, including a large stretch of Fifth Avenue, can expect lengthy delays just trying to get to the front door. Elsewhere bodegas and corner stores could run short on some supplies thanks to a ban on delivery trucks in some areas, while bakeries could struggle to get their goods out and into shops across the city. After arriving at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens on Thursday the pope will then go to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Midtown. The next day begins with an address to the United Nations, followed by a late-morning service at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center site in lower Manhattan. That afternoon, Pope Francis will pay a visit to Our Lady Queen of Angels School in East Harlem, before he is scheduled to celebrate a Mass on Friday evening, Sept. 25, at Madison Square Garden. He leaves New York on Saturday morning.
Tish Cash, who lives in Midtown where most of the road closures will be centered, added: ‘There’s fear, I’ll just leave it at that. It’s either walking as far north or south as possible and then praying from there to get across town. You’re praying. Is that ironic? Very much so.’
POPE IN AMERICA: FRANCIS’S ITINERARY ON HIS FIRST TRIP TO THE UNITED STATES
Pope Francis, who has never been to the United States before, will arrive from Cuba at Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington D.C. on Tuesday, September 22.
WEDNESDAY: WASHINGTON D.C.
9.15am: Welcome ceremony and meeting with President Obama at the White House
11am: Papal Parade along the Ellipse and the National Mall (time approximate)
11.30am: Midday Prayer with the bishops of the United States, St. Matthew’s Cathedral
4.15pm: Mass of Canonization of Junipero Serra, Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
THURSDAY: WASHINGTON D.C. AND NEW YORK
9.20am: Address to Joint Meeting of the United States Congress
11.15am: Visit to St. Patrick in the City and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington
4pm: Depart from Joint Base Andrews
5pm: Arrival at John F. Kennedy International Airport
6.45pm: Evening Prayer (Vespers) at St. Patrick’s Cathedral
FRIDAY: NEW YORK
8.30am: Visit to the United Nations and address to the United Nations General Assembly
11.30am: Multi-religious service at 9/11 Memorial and Museum, World Trade Center
4pm: Visit to Our Lady Queen of Angels School, East Harlem
5pm: Procession through Central Park (time approximate)
6pm: Mass at Madison Square Garden
SATURDAY: NEW YORK AND PHILADELPHIA
8.40am: Departure from John F. Kennedy International Airport
9.30am: Arrival at Atlantic Aviation, Philadelphia
10.30am: Mass at Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul, Philadelphia
4.45pm: Visit to Independence Mall
7.30pm: Visit to the Festival of Families Benjamin Franklin Parkway
9.15am: Meeting with bishops at St. Martin’s Chapel, St. Charles Borromeo Seminary
11am: Visit to Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility
4pm: Mass for the conclusion of the World Meeting of Families, Benjamin Franklin Parkway
7pm: Visit with organizers, volunteers and benefactors of the World Meeting of Families, Atlantic Aviation
8pm: Departure for Rome
Source: DAILY MAIL