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On Francis’ last, full day in Cuba, a message of change

On Francis’ last, full day in Cuba, a message of change

Pope Francis delivers homily with “many dimensions”
Throngs endure swelter to see pope celebrate Mass in Holguín
Day closes with visit to Santiago de Cuba and sacred shrine

The man whose unassuming personality has transformed the papacy arrived
Monday in a corner of Cuba that had never seen a pope and urged the
faithful — and, perhaps, their political leaders — to embrace change.

Pope Francis stuck to religion as he celebrated Mass at Holguín’s Plaza
de la Revolución. But Monday was the Feast of St. Matthew, whose story
is one of spiritual conversion. And so, like many things the pontiff has
said while in Cuba, Francis’ pastoral message took on a broader meaning.

He spoke of Matthew, a despised and traitorous tax collector for the
Romans who abandoned that life to follow Jesus. Francis urged Cubans to
“slowly overcome our preconceptions and our reluctance to think that
others, much less ourselves, can change.”

“Do you believe it possible that a traitor can become a friend?” the
pope said, looking out at thousands of people congregated in the plaza.

Sitting in the front row: Cuban leader Raúl Castro.

After the Mass, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, told
reporters the pope’s homily was chiefly aimed at individual hearts and
minds: “Each one of us has to start to change.”

But, Lombardi conceded, “His speeches always have many dimensions.”

Those were the dimensions that seemed to interest many of the people
from Holguín, for whom Francis is inseparable from normalized diplomatic
U.S.-Cuba relations and a larger role for the Roman Catholic Church in Cuba.

“He spoke of the reconciliation between the church and the government,”
asserted Ernesto Parra, 43, who now lives in Miami but traveled home to
Holguín for the pope’s visit. “I liked that.”

The government, though, still arrested at least five opposition
activists who tried to attend the Mass, according to Unión Patriótica de
Cuba (Patriotic Cuban Union), or UNPACU.

“Almost always the regime does whatever it takes to make it impossible
for us to get close to the pope,” said Yriade Hernández, the group’s
national coordinator. “All we want to talk with him about is the lack of
liberty and the political prisoners on the island.”

Hernández added the group has records of 21 jailed activists. “In every
municipality where we have strong presence, our people are being
monitored,” he said, predicting more activists would be picked up in
Santiago, where the pope arrived late Monday to the Shrine of Our Lady
of Charity of El Cobre, Cuba’s patron saint.

An UNPACU member from Havana said an additional five group members
remained in jail after being detained Sunday — some of them trying to
approach the pope during his Mass there. The spokesman said the
detainees include three people from Playas, two from Havana and one from
Pinar del Río.

Reporters again pressed Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, about the
detained Havana dissidents, who said Francis had telephoned asking to
see them. Again, Lombardi said a meeting with dissidents was not on the
pope’s agenda.

In Washington, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Cuba “should do a
better job of protecting the human rights of their citizens, including
those who may even have some criticism of the Cuban government to offer.”

South Florida’s two Republican presidential candidates, Sen. Marco Rubio
and former Gov. Jeb Bush, separately bashed the Cuban government’s
treatment of dissidents.

In his homily, Francis lamented that religious freedom remains elusive
in Cuba, where Catholics can worship but can’t have their own schools or
radio stations.

“I know the struggles of the church in Cuba,” Francis said. He praised
Casa Misiones, the estimated 2,600 “mission houses” that, given a
shortage of churches and priests on the island, provide a place for
people to pray and practice their faith. “They are small signs of God’s
presence in our neighborhoods.”

Throngs of people, buoyed by faith and hand fans, endured sweltering
heat to sit or stand through Francis’ Mass. Many didn’t make it past
Francis’ Popemobile tour of the square shortly after his arrival. They
waved to the pontiff from behind wooden barriers but left after
realizing they could hardly hear Francis — or bear the punishing sun.

Cuba is Latin America’s least Catholic country, and Holguín is no
different. The city’s two largest churches remained closed most of
Sunday, on the eve of the pope’s visit. Of the people who attended
Monday’s papal Mass, only those near the front seemed to know the hymns
and prayers.

“Bow your heads,” a man behind a microphone instructed the crowd to
receive the pope’s final blessing.

Still, Holguineros declared themselves proud to host a pope for the
first time. They said their city, parts of it in severe disrepair and
recently plagued by dengue, cholera and drought, could use a touch of

Francis’ visit coincided with three days of rain, including a Monday
afternoon thunderstorm.

When the pope made his way to Loma de la Cruz, the Hill of the Cross, to
formally bless Holguín, the skies parted.

At the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre later Monday, Francis
held a private meeting with bishops then sat before the saint in prayer.
A children’s choir sang to the pontiff before he left to retire for the
night. On Tuesday, Francis will preside over a Mass at the shrine in
Cobre, meet with families and bless the city of Santiago before leaving
about 12:15 p.m. for Washington, D.C. to begin his American tour.

Mazzei reported from Holguin and Chang from Miami. Miami Herald South
American correspondent Jim Wyss reported from Santiago. McClatchy White
House correspondent Lesley Clark also contributed to this report from

Source: On Francis’ last, full day in Cuba, a message of change | Miami
Herald –

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