Editor’s Note: Alleluia! As we celebrate Easter, we present the final blog of Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., from Pope Benedict XVI’s March 26-28 visit to Cuba.
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
HAVANA — We had to get up early to walk to the sight of the papal Mass, which was to begin at 9 a.m. The streets were empty of cars as people were walking to Revolution Square, the same place where Blessed John Paul II offered Mass in 1998. The day was perfect with a bright blue sky. Many people coming for the Mass wore printed visors to provide shade and to remind people of the reasons for the event.
The crowd was made up mostly of Cubans; the day was declared a holiday by President Raul Castro. As in Santiago de Cuba, Castro was in his same spot at the front of the crowd in the middle of the plaza, along with other government officials. Some said the crowd was smaller than when Blessed John Paul was there, others said it was about the same or larger. Crowd estimates are hard to come by. By all standards it was a large crowd. Clearly people identify with the Catholic Church, even though some are not committed to it.
Again the image of Mary on the top of a van preceded the entrance of the Holy Father. It was placed near the altar with great devotion. For this Mass the Holy Father arrived on time. There were about eight cardinals and 35 bishops who concelebrated, a few more than at the Mass in Santiago de Cuba. The cardinals and bishops vested behind the altar in a monument area, which was built just before the revolution and is dedicated to Jose Marti.
The liturgies of Pope Benedict are very subdued and solemn. In fact, an announcement was made before each Mass asking that people refrain from clapping and waving flags. The people respected the pope’s wishes. At the end of Mass the pope walked out in front, waving, his face broad with a gracious smile. After Mass he went to meet Cuban seminarians who had gathered behind the altar. Cardinal Jaime Ortega stood with them, looking very proud.
Before the Holy Father left he met with Fidel Castro. Castro’s health has significantly deteriorated, apparently. According to Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican press secretary, the two men talked about aging, and Fidel asked the pope to suggest a book on spiritual reflection.
Just as Pope Benedict was to leave, a big storm came up just over the airport, delaying the departure. I was doing an interview in the CNN studio, on the 28th floor, and the view was spectacular, as you could see the rain over the airport and eventually, the sun shining through, casting bright white light over the area. My interview was interrupted as we watched the parting remarks by Raul Castro and the pope’s final comments. These were the pope’s most “political” words of this trip. Pope Benedict said Cuba is for all Cubans and there is a need to open dialogue with the human family of nations.
That evening, I and some others walked about seven kilometers, very exhausting. One can walk all over Cuba without fear. Guns are not allowed and violence is not apparent. Our path took us along the Malecon, the seawall, where the water was pretty rough that night. Waves breaking over the wall nearly got us soaked. It began to rain so we tried to get a cab, but by the time he came the rain had stopped, and we continued our walk.