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”.
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.
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