Pope Francis’ agenda in Cuba will be tight, but the people will be on the lookout for opportunities to come close to him, touch his hand, or simply ask for his blessing in between events.
Francis will arrive in Havana for a three day visit on Saturday, September 19th, at 4:00 pm, at the Jose Marti International Airport, from where he will head to the Apostolic Nunciature of the Holy See in Playa, a municipality in northern Havana.
The Cuban government has announced special adjustments to the workday for workers to be able to gather on the street to welcome the Catholic leader.
“Managers in Havana, Holguin Santiago de Cuba and the adjoining areas will make arrangements for their employees to attend the Pope’s welcoming activities, masses, public events and farewell,” announced the minister of Labor and Social Security. “Workers who take part in said events will be paid the minimum wage for the working hours used to attend these activities.”
This visit to Cuba –the third of a pope to the island nation in 20 years- carries especial meaning in that Francis is original from the Latin American region, and has also played a key role in the rapprochement between Cuba and the United Sates. This combined with the respect that his criticism of the prevailing unequal world order has gained him around the globe probably make of Francis the most popular pope ever to visit Cuba.
At the Revolution Square in Havana, Francis will officiate a Holy Mass starting at 9:00 a.m. The stage for that event has been set up near the legendary image of Che Guevara, on display on one of the walls of the Ministry of the Interior.
It has also been announced that at 3:45 that same day, Pope Francis will meet with Cuban President Raul Castro and other Cuban officials at the Revolution Palace.
Later on the day, the pope will pray at Havana’s Cathedral joined by priests, religious people and seminarians. Next, he will visit the Felix Varela Cultural Center, a theology higher education institute, where he will meet students and professors of the San Carlos and San Ambrosio Seminar. It’s very likely that people take advantage of these visits to different places in Old Havana to approach His Holiness.
Although not included in the official program, it is also possible that the Pope meets on Sunday with Cuba’s former president Fidel Castro. According to a report by Notimex, quoting “sources close to the Pope”, the encounter has already been arranged.
The Vatican’s spokesman Federico Lombardo said that “It is possible that that meeting takes place during the pope’s stay in Havana.” Lombardi added that President Raul Castro had also conveyed to the Vatican Fidel’s desire to meet with the Pope.
On Monday morning, September 21st, Francis will depart for the province of Holguin, in the easternmost part of the island, where he will hold a second mass at 10:30 at the Calixto Garcia Revolution Square. He will also pay a visit to Holguin’s Bishopric and the Hill of the Cross, a traditional place of pilgrimage for locals and a symbol of the city.
According to statements made by Monsignor Emilio Aranguren Echeverría to Ahora Weekly, the selection of this province for the visit was based on facts of historic and religious relevance, such as being the area where Christopher Columbus landed in Cuba for the first time, in Bariay in 1492; where the apparition of Virgin of La Caridad del Cobre in Cueybá, was reported, and where her image was worshiped in public in Cuba for the first time in history.
At 4:00 p.m., the Pope will continue travel to Santiago de Cuba, the country’s second largest city. From the airport, he will head to his accommodation at the old San Basilio Magno Seminar, where he will meet in private with the bishops, and then will visit the Minor Basilica of the Our Lady of Caridad del Cobre National Sanctuary, where he will pray to Cuba’s patron virgin on occasion of the 100th anniversary of the request made by Cuban independence fighters in the 19th century for the Vatican to grant the virgin that denomination.
Francis will visit Santiago’s Cathedral and will meet there with Cuban families. This is a very important point on his agenda because it precedes the 7th World Meeting of Families that he is to close in Philadelphia, in the United States.
The Pope will bless the city of Santiago, and then will depart for the United States, where he is also to conduct a visit through September 28th.