HANDOUT/REUTERS/ Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (l.) greets Pope Francis after a mass in Havana’s Revolution Square in Cuba. Ortega was among many priests sent to military-run agricultural camps in the 1960s after Fidel Castro declared Cuba to be socialist and accused prominent Catholics of trying to topple him.
Cuban police kept some dissidents from attending the Mass and pounced on others apparently attempting to hand out flyers near the plaza.
Pope Francis was a key conduit between the Castros and the Obama administration in launching the current US-Cuban thaw.
The two men exchanged books and discussed issues facing humanity, including the Pope’s recent letter to senior clergymen on the environment and global capitalism.
Cubans know that Francis helped spur the United States and Cuba to their historic rapprochement, and they are coming out in droves to see history’s first Latin American pope.
Balloons are released into the sky after a blessing by Pope Francis, from the pilgrimage site Hill of the Cross, over looking Holguin, Cuba, Monday, September 21, 2015.
On Sunday, the pontiff met with Fidel Castro, presenting the former Cuban revolutionary leader with several books, CDs of homilies and two encyclicals, including his famous Laudato Si, which called for greater social focus on climate change.
The message was a welcoming one for Cubans, who saw in Francis a direct appeal to embrace change, but to do so without losing their identity.
“We need to be careful not to be tempted by another kind of service, a “service” which is ‘self-serving, ‘” he said.
Arriving on Saturday, Francis exhorted Cuba and the United States to deepen their detente, and encouraged Cuba to grant more freedom to the Roman Catholic Church, which has re-emerged as a powerful force after suffering decades of repression.
“Service is never ideological, for we do not serve ideas, we serve people…”
But the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), the country’s largest dissident group, said four of its activists remained in jail as of late Sunday.
Matthew was a tax collector who has a special place in the pope’s heart since, as he told the Cuban youth on Sunday, his feast day marks the anniversary of the day Francis chose to become a priest.
The 78-year-old Argentine pope will celebrate Mass at the sanctuary of the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre, the country’s holiest shrine and one also venerated by non-believers and practitioners of Afro-Cuban religions infused with varying degrees of Catholicism.
Francis also called the restoration of diplomatic ties “an example of reconciliation for the entire world“.