HAVANA — While Pope Benedict XVI was in the air on his way to Mexico this morning, Cuba’s foreign minister opened the official papal visit press centers in Havana and Santiago de Cuba. The pope arrives in Santiago de Cuba Monday and travels to Havana Tuesday.
Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez apparently told reporters that Cubans would welcome with pope with affection and listen to him with respect.
But when the press center opened, I was two blocks away trying to get my credentials at the foreign ministry’s office for international press. At this moment, I’m still trying to get the passes I need to cover the pope’s trip, but they kindly have allowed me into the press center.
Already staffed with dozens of assistants, telephone operators and folks handing out internet access cards, the press center is one of the clearest signs that Pope Benedict’s arrival is just days away.
Along the five miles of main road leading from the airport to Havana’s Vedado neighborhood, where the press center and press hotels are, there are two welcome signs. “Bienvenido a Cuba, Sua Santidad Benedicto XVI,” (Welcome to Cuba, Your Holiness Benedict XVI), both say. Other than those two signs, there’s not much else.
However, on the wall of a shuttered shop between the foreign ministry office for journalists and the press center, there was a small poster: “Bienvenido a Cuba, peregrino de la caridad” (“Welcome to Cuba, pilgrim of charity”). The poster refers to the main motive of the pope’s trip here — the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the icon of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre.
Of course, if I had to wait outside the papal press center for my credentials, I could have enjoyed the beautiful view of the sea and some strolling musicians.