By Patty Vila, SouthFloridaReporter.com, Cuba Expert, Sept. 18, 2015 – In 1998 I was in Havana for the visit of Pope John Paul II’s. His trip in my humble opinion was the start of where we are today when it comes to U.S. – Cuba relations. On Sunday morning in Havana when Pope Francis steps into Revolution Square to lead an outdoor mass, he’ll surely be received with much love and attention from the Cuban people.
Starting Saturday, Pope Francis will spend four days traveling through Cuba before heading to the U.S. for visits to Washington, New York City and Philadelphia.
The Cuba trip carries greater historical weight since he played a key role in the reestablished diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Cuba. The pope sent personal letters to Presidents Obama and Raul Castro, urging them to end their long-time Cold War relationship.
It’ll be the 78-year-old pontiff’s first visit to Cuba but the third papal trip to the island in twenty years. Pope John Paul II’s groundbreaking visit to Cuba in 1998 was followed by a 2012 visit by Pope Benedict.
As the first Latin American pope, Francis, an Argentine, can speak in his native Spanish, which will allow him to connect more personally with Cubans.
Francis will travel from Havana to Holguin to Santiago de Cuba and pay a visit to Our Lady of Charity in El Cobre, Cuba’s patron saint. He’ll lead two open air masses and three church gatherings, meet with bishops, state leaders, Cuban families and youth.
As of this moment I spoke to Maria Elena Alpizar, vice president of the Ladies in White movement in Miami and still no answer as to the request they made many weeks ago to attend mass and meet with the Pope. I will be glued to the TV with my family in Ft. Myers watching this historic moment as my friends and family that live in Havana will be seeing it person.