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Pope Francis brings hope to Cuba

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On the 62nd anniversary of Pope Francis' first calling from God, the pontiff celebrated Mass in east Cuba and was the first pope to visit Holguin, the province's capital.

The pope not only delivered a beautiful mass but also met with Fidel Castro and made a few pointed gestures indicating his dissatisfaction with Cuba's leadership.

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LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA (Catholic Online) - Reuters reported when he was only 17-years-old, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was on his way to a picnic with friends to mark the beginning of spring, when he felt the need to enter a church he was passing in Buenos Aires.

He told a biographer that in that moment he felt a pull. "I can't say what it was but it changed my life," he said.

It was then that he dedicated his Holguin homily to the Bible story of the former tax collector who was converted and chose to follow Jesus Christ.

During his mass, Pope Francis warned against power, but avoided overly-political comments and called people to serve one another.

"Service is never ideological, for we don't serve ideas, we serve people," the pontiff said. "Don't neglect them for plans which can be seductive but are unconcerned about the face of the person beside you."

He also encouraged people to "serve people, not ideas," saying, "service is never ideological."

Daily Mail reported Pope Francis' critiques of Castro's regime, particularly of the times the pontiff called the Castro family "corrupt" and "authoritarian" before calling for the dictatorship to be replaced with a democracy.

The National Catholic Reporter translated Pope Francis' mass, in which he said, "There is a way to go about serving which is interested in only helping 'my people,' in the name of 'our people.' This service always leaves 'your people' outside, and gives rise to a dynamic of exclusion."


Many Cubans complain that Castro has taken complete control and threatens those who appear disloyal or who dare to step out of line. To Cubans, the pope's mass was a breath of fresh air and supported what citizens have desired for many years.

Cuban website, 14ymedio, reported 30 people being detained to prevent protests during the mass, including four activists from the Patriotic Union of Cuba who spoke to the pope about numerous violations of human rights in Cuba, twenty members of Ladies in White -a group founded by wives and female relatives of jailed dissidents- who were invited to meet the pope, and members from an unnamed human rights group.

Before delivering mass, Pope Francis toured the square in his popemobile and members of the Cuban Patriotic Union appeared. They could be seen on television trying to approach the vehicle to hand Pope Francis an open letter but security officials pulled them away.

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One of the four members threw copies of the letter in the air before being pulled completely away. The letter was published on the group's website and asked the pontiff for help concerning the communist regime.

"Because of your moral stature and wise mediation, you could intercede and plead for the rights of the oppressed, who in Cuba are the great majority," the letter said.

Pope Francis is not ignorant of Cuba's situation. His comments during mass were clearly aimed at Castro and while exchanging gifts upon the pontiff's arrival to Cuba, Pope Francis included a book written by Spanish priest Reverand Amando Llorente, one of Castro's former teachers who was exiled from Cuba when Fidel came into power.

In a speech delivered upon arriving to Cuba, Pope Francis referenced Jose Marti, a famous Cuban freedom fighter, calling him a "fighter of dynasties," which many believe was a direct shot toward the Castro family.

Yesterday the pontiff entered a Jesuit community in Havana and told the children at the Centro Cultural Padre Felix Varela to "Open yourself, dream big, don't strike yourself. Open yourself, and dream. Dream that the world with you can be different. Dream that if you give the best of yourself, you'll make the world a different place. Don't forget. Dream."

The unscripted speech was the second of the day, the first being a warning against the temptation of wealth. He told the congregation, "Our dear mother church is poor. God wants it poor, as he wanted our Holy Mother Mary to be poor."

Most Cubans are not Catholic but nearly every Cuban respects Pope Francis and believe he will bring change.

54-year-old Jose Rafael Velazquez came to the plaza with his wife to witness mass despite not being Catholic. He said, "We also are very hopeful for this visit, because the pope was key in the deal with the United States, and ever since the announcement, there have been changes and this visit gives me more hope that it'll get better."


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