Tue, Sep 22, 2015 - Page 7 News List

Pope Francis to bless Holguin, head to Santiago

AFP and Reuters, HAVANA

Pope Francis, left, meets Cuban President Raul Castro at the Palacio de la Revolucion in Havana on Sunday.

Photo: EPA

Pope Francis was to travel yesterday to Holguin in eastern Cuba, a cradle of Catholic faith on the island and also the home region of former Cuban president Fidel Castro and his brother, Cuban President Raul Castro.

Holguin is known for a cross that has overlooked the city from a hilltop since a Franciscan monk hauled it up there in 1790 — though the original wooden version succumbed to old age and the 1950 replacement was destroyed by lightning.

Now made of concrete, the 5m landmark has endured through centuries of hurricanes and years of tensions between the Church and the communist regime, which was officially atheist for more than three decades until 1992.

Francis was to fly from Havana to Holguin early yesterday and give a morning mass at a square named after Cuban independence hero Calixto Garcia. About 150,000 people were expected.

He was then to visit the hilltop cross to bless the city of 291,000 inhabitants, Cuba’s fourth-largest, before heading to Santiago, the nation’s second city — dubbed “the heroic city” by the regime because Fidel Castro declared there on Jan. 1, 1959, that his revolution had toppled dictator Fulgencio Batista.

The pope on Sunday met with Fidel Castro for an hour and then celebrated Mass with tens of thousands of followers in Havana’s Revolution Square, including Raul Castro and top government officials. Police prevented some dissidents from getting close to the pontiff.

Francis and Fidel Castro discussed religion and world affairs at the 89-year-old retired president’s home, just hours after the pope warned Cubans of the dangers of ideology and the lure of selfishness.

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the meeting, which also included Fidel Castro’s wife and other family members, was “very relaxed, fraternal and friendly.”

Francis, 78, gave Fidel Castro several of his official papal writings, two books on spirituality, and a book and CD on the writings of Father Armando Llorente, a priest who taught the former president in Jesuit prep school more than 70 years ago.

Fidel Castro, who wore a blue-and-white track suit jacket, gave the pontiff a copy of Fidel and Religion, a 1985 book of interviews with a Brazilian priest that lifted a taboo on speaking about religion in Cuba, then officially atheist.

Later yesterday, Francis went to the Palace of the Revolution for an hour-long private meeting with 84-year-old Raul Castro, who surprised the pope by giving him a sculpture of a life-sized Jesus Christ nailed to a cross made of oars and adorned with fishing nets.

An estimated 50 government opponents have been detained and prevented from attending papal events since Francis arrived on Saturday, according to the dissident Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation.

Two prominent dissidents said they were stopped by state security agents for a second straight day on Sunday, when they were trying to reach the pope’s evening prayers service in Havana’s cathedral.

The two women, Miriam Leiva and Martha Beatriz Roque, said they had been invited to the service by the Vatican’s diplomatic envoys. A Vatican spokesman said some Cubans had been invited, but he could not confirm their names.

Earlier on Sunday, four dissidents who tried to deliver a letter to the pope were detained near Revolution Square after police knocked them to the ground and confiscated leaflets printed with prayers. One of them got close enough to make physical contact with Francis in his open-sided “popemobile.”

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top