MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Catholics from all around Cuba, and even the U.S., watched and listened as Pope Benedict XVI delivered mass in Santiago, Cuba Monday evening.
More than 300 Cuban-Americans joined Miami’s Archbishop Thomas Wenski on two charter flights to Havana early Monday morning to take part in a pilgrimage to see the Pope, in what Wenski said would be, quite literally, “A religious experience.”We hope that it brings more faith and more hope to Cuba,” he said before leaving.

Pope Benedict left Mexico around 10:45 a.m. and arrived in Cuba around 3:30 p.m.

Anticipation for those on the flights out of Miami was high in advance of the departures.  The pilgrims will spend four days in Cuba and experience the second ever papal visit to the island nation.

“I am excited. I am nervous, and I’m anticipating confusion,” said Natalia Martinez, 25, whose family left Cuba two decades ago.

For many the visit is more than just religion. Julia Malcolm, traveling with her 3 daughters, broke down in tears as she described how this was her5 first trip back to Cuba after leaving 51 years ago. In addition to seeing Pope Benedict, she has made time to find the old neighborhood and the old family home. She called the trip, made possible by the Pope’s visit, a “Gift that God has given me”.

icon video Pope Benedict XVI Addresses Cuban Faithful At Santiago MassWEB EXTRA: Pope Benedict XVI Holds Mass In Santiago, Cuba

Travel to Cuba is always controversial among Cuban-Americans and the half-century-old U.S. embargo of the island severely limits trips there. In the 1970s, those who visited were often blacklisted in South Florida. A few faced violence upon their return. These days, newer Cuban immigrants often visit relatives on the island.

Among the Cuban-Americans and exiles expected to make the trip were a good number of American-born people who were coming to experience the Pope’s visit, and in some cases, to take advantage of a unique opportunity to see Cuba. They joined groups of priests, groups of nuns, and others who hoped to take a personal message of hope to the Cuban people.

Other planes will leave later this week, from both Miami and Ft. Lauderdale, get other pilgrims in Havana in time for the pope’s second and final mass.

(TM and © Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

  1. Paul says:

    Yeah. Let’s all go for a vacation to Cuba (Disney is over-visited) and leave some additional hard currency for a totalitarian regime with more blood on their hands than a blood bank, and help lift their terrible image of assasins and opressors to that of religion respecting totalitarian regime.
    Wenskie, I hope that your fore fathers in Poland are not rolling in their graves. They were subjected to some of the same criminal conduct in Poland by the communist. But yet, you stayed and will be staying in some fine hotels, and eating at fine restaurants where the native Cubans can get into. Very Christian of you. What would Christ say……………? Were you part of apartied in South Africa also?

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