MIAMI(CBS4) – When Pope Benedict visits Cuba at the end of March, a group of Catholics from Miami will be there to meet him.
“I hope if we fill up one plane, we’ll fill up a second plane or third plane,” said Archbishop Thomas Wenski.
The Archdiocese of Miami announced that there will be two trips; one to Santiago and Havana and other just to Havana. Archbishop Wenski said the religious pilgrimage is a way to show solidarity with the Catholic Church inCubaas it celebrates the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the image of the Virgin of Charity of Cobre, which is Cuba’s patron saint.
“The Cuban bishops have said the Cuban people are one wherever they are,” said Archbishop Wenski.
Because the trip is for religious purposes, it will not be limited to Cubans or Cuban-Americans.
The last time a pope visited Cuba in 1998, Miami’s archdiocese planned to charter a cruise ship for those who wanted to make the trip.
“But because of great controversy and opposition, my predecessor decided not to take a cruise ship and instead took a plane,” said Archbishop Wenski. “This time we didn’t even have time to think about a cruise ship.”
Now more than a decade later, Archbishop Wenski said he hasn’t heard very much opposition to this Spring’s trip.
“In this community, you always get some heat no matter what side you take on any position and there have been letters in the paper or phone calls that might be critical,” said Archbishop Wenski. “But the overwhelming majority of the reaction I have received so far has been very, very positive.”
But what is the role of the Catholic Church in Cuba? Some say it is fighting for religious freedom while critics argue the government is using its relationship with the church to help maintain government control of the island. The archbishop doesn’t see it that way
“Before the Castro revolution there were almost one thousand priests working in Cuba. By 1968 there were about 100 left so the church suffered greatly under communism and so the church knows what it’s dealing with and I think the church in Cuba is adept enough not to allow itself to be used or to be manipulated by the government,” said Wenski.
To find out more about the upcoming pilgrimage to Cuba, email the archdiocese at firstname.lastname@example.org.