MIAMI (CBSMiami) – An emotional homecoming at Miami International Airport for Archbishop Thomas Wenski and dozens of followers who returned to South Florida after making a historic pilgrimage to Cuba to see Pope Benedict XVI.
The group returned on two flights. Both were delayed for a little more than an hour leaving Havana.
Approximately 300 of the South Florida faithful made the trip to Cuba to see the pope over the last four days.
During a sermon at the Cathedral in Havana Tuesday, Wenski urged a “soft landing” from Marxism. The Mass was part of a special service in honor of the pope’s visit to the island.
“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.”
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.
Wenski spoke to a packed audience of mostly Cuban-American pilgrims, and they gave him a loud, sustained standing ovation. Wenski, who has had a close relationship with Catholic Church leaders on the island since the mid-1990s and has worked to help Cuba recover from damaging hurricanes, also spoke in favor of human rights, while he warned against the excesses of capitalism.
Andy Gomez, a senior political fellow at the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, was among those in the audience.
“He’s got courage,” Gomez said. “He talked about human rights, which the pope did not yesterday.”
The Mass was open, and a number of people wandered in toward the end of the service.
Leaflets titled “Cubans Here and There: Pilgrims for Freedom,” printed by a Cuban dissident group, were passed out with a message welcoming the visitors.
“This is your country from where you are exiled as (are) hundreds (of) thousands of Cubans,” it read in imperfect English. “We fight, maybe alone, but we fight for every Cuban’s rights and the respect of their dignity.”
“We are all one, and a single people!” it added.
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