MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Seeking to emphasize the importance of faith, Pope Benedict XVI is spending his second day on the island on Cuba.
On Tuesday, pilgrims from South Florida and Cuba’s faithful gathered at Old Havana’s historic cathedral as Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski celebrated mass alongside members of the Cuban clergy.
“Being here is a way to show that the Cuban people are one people,” said Wenski.
Wenski spoke to a packed audience of more than 300 mostly Cuban-American pilgrims, and they gave him a loud, sustained standing ovation. Many in the audience left Cuba as young children or are the sons and daughters of exiles.
Delivering his sermon in Spanish, Wenski said the pope and the Roman Catholic Church in Cuba desire a political evolution that provides dignity to all Cubans, who have been ruled since 1959 by brothers Fidel and Raul Castro, calling Marxism a spent ideology and urged Cubans to be the protagonists of their own future.
“The pope and the Cuban Church want a transition that is dignified for the human being, dignified for the Cuban,” he said. “The church wants a soft landing … and a future of hope.”
It’s a message that he has delivered in recent weeks, but those in attendance said his words reverberated more strongly being said inside Cuba.
Also on Tuesday, the pontiff prayed at the shrine of Cuba’s patron saint, the Virgin of Charity. The shrine is in the town of Cobre on the eastern end of the island. The Holy Father said he prayed for those who suffered and for “those deprived of freedom.” He also met with Cuban President leader Raul Castro and urged the leader to recognize December 25th as a national holiday, something that has not happened on the island since the 1960s.
Cardinal Jaime Ortega, Archbishop of Havana, has spent weeks preparing Cuba’s Catholics for the papal visit. Numerous masses have been celebrated in honor of the Virgin of Charity and a statue of the saint has crisscrossed the island for the faithful to see.
On Monday, tens of thousands of people were on hand to greet the pope as he arrived in Santiago. He was met at the airport by President Raul Castro who assured the pontiff his country favors complete religious freedom. Pope Benedict celebrated a Mass in Santiago Monday night.
Father Juan Jose Szcepan, from St. Stephen’s Church in New Jersey, said he hopes talks will lead to more progress with the U.S. embargo of Cuba.
“I do not think the embargo affects the government officials in any major way,” said Szcepan. “It affects the people of Cuba.”
A Vatican spokesman says Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who is in Havana undergoing cancer treatment, did not ask for an audience but would be welcome to attend the pope’s second Mass on Wednesday which will be held in the capital’s Revolution Square.
This is only the second time the pope has visited Cuba, the last time was in 1998.
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