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Pope Francis Lands in Cuba, Calls for Reconciliation

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Pope Francis is speaking in Cuba on climate change and income disparity. How about talking about the gospel of Jesus Christ instead? Meanwhile there is still persecution of Christians in Cuba and Catholic Schools are not permitted. ( Income disparity also known as Communism!) MB

Pontiff asks for freedom for church to operate; President Raúl Castro praises Francis’ efforts on climate change, income disparity

Arriving for the first time in Cuba, Pope Francis called Saturday upon President Raúl Castro and the U.S. government to further the process of reconciliation between the two countries while also asking the Cuban government for the means and space for the church to operate.

“We have witnessed an event which filled us with hope: the process of normalizing relations between two peoples following years of estrangement,” the pontiff said under partly cloudy skies.

Quoting Cuba’s 19th century independence war hero Jose Martí, Francis said the developing relationship with the U.S. was a sign of the “victory of the culture of encounter and dialogue” over the “forever dead rights of groups and dynasties.”

The pope arrived to a 21-gun salute, and received presents of flowers from a group of Cuban children who received hugs from him.

The pontiff said the Catholic Church in Cuba should have the “freedom, the means and the space needed” to evangelize and provide charitable service to the island’s people.

Thousands of people lined the wide avenue along which the pope traveled, passing through Havana’s onetime middle class neighborhoods. Some had come because of their Catholic faith, others for the thrill of seeing a world leader arrive. Many had been bussed in from other parts of the city by the government and waited hours for the pontiff to go by.

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“I am not a believer, but we support anything that brings good things for us,” said government worker Margarita Valdez, 54, citing the pope’s help in easing relations with Washington. “We are prepared for this. We want this.”

At the airport, Mr. Castro welcomed Francis with a speech finding common ground between what he said were the values of the Cuban revolution and with Francis’ concern about climate change and income disparity.

“An increasing global impact has resulted from your analysis on the causes of these problems and the call to safeguard the planet and the survival of our species,” said Mr. Castro, referring to Francis’ efforts to highlight climate change, particularly in an encyclical that has received widespread attention this year.

Mr. Castro blasted capitalism and what he called the idolatry of money. He said people have been turned into little more than consumers, an impact that was felt most harshly in developing countries.

He made a stout defense of his government, which he said had created an “equitable society with social justice and extensive access to culture.”

“We keep advancing with determination in the updating of our economic and social model to build a prosperous and sustainable socialism,” he said. “Preserving socialism is tantamount to securing independence, sovereignty, development and the well-being of our nation.”

Mr. Castro thanked the pope for his support of the détente between the U.S. and Cuba, which was announced in December by both governments, stunning people world-wide. But he said that a true normalization would require the lifting of the embargo, as well as the return of the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo.

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Mr. Castro also said relations between the Church in Cuba and the government were developing “in a gratifying” atmosphere.

Visits by St. John Paul and Pope Benedict XVI, in 1998 and 2012 respectively, led to government concessions, including visas for foreign missionaries and the establishment of Christmas and Good Friday as national holidays. Pope Francis on Saturday noted the “bonds of cooperation and friendship” that he said were a legacy of those papal visits. But the Catholic Church in Cuba is still not allowed to operate schools.

Many Cubans, though acutely aware of the limitations, were enthusiastic about Francis’ arrival and hopeful he could foster changes, even if small.

“I think it’s great the pope is coming,” said Gabriela García, 24, whose family abandoned Catholicism after the 1959 revolution. “He’s bringing a message of change.”

Pope Francis is making for his first trip to the U.S. as the Holy Father from September 22 to 27. He’ll make stops in Washington, DC, New York, and Philadelphia. How will he be spending those six days? WSJ’s Jason Bellini has #TheShortAnswer.

At the airport, Pope Francis hinted at the link between liberalization of Cuban society and the easing of punitive measures by the U.S. He quoted St. John Paul’s expressed wish that “Cuba, with all its magnificent potential, might open itself to the world and that the world might open itself to Cuba.”

Arranged in the spring to precede next week’s long-planned, six-day tour of the eastern U.S., the pope’s visit here carries special significance for many, including hundreds of Americans who traveled to see him.

“I love this pope,” said Patricia Bartlett, 85, visiting Cuba for the first time from her home on the coast of Maine. “I think he is going to change the world, or at least Cuba.”

The Pope’s arrival comes a day after the Obama administration announced further easing of the half-century of economic sanctions against the island. Measures so far include the elimination of limits on how much money can be sent to relatives in Cuba, permission for U.S. businesses to establish bank accounts and branches and an easing of travel restrictions for Americans.

As have his predecessors who have come here, Francis plans to celebrate Sunday Mass in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution, a yawning outdoor square dominated by a portrait of Argentine revolutionary hero Ernesto “Che” Guevara.

The pope plans to travel to the eastern city of Holguín and then on to Santiago, Cuba’s second-largest city, where he will say a final mass at the Shrine to the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre, Cuba’s patroness.

Analysts say that both Mr. Castro and the pope are getting something out of the tour.

Pope Francis’ speech shows that he’s completing a cycle that began when St. John Paul visited Cuba in 1998, said Ricardo Romano, a prominent member of Argentina’s Peronist movement who has worked with the pope for over three decades.

“Mr. Castro, in turn, is showing willingness to use Francis and the Vatican as a bridge to return to Cuba’s founding cultural roots and to the political institutions of the Western world,” he added.

The Vatican has suggested that Francis will take a cautious approach, pursuing human rights questions in his private discussions with President Castro.

However, Pope Francis often makes unannounced additions to his agenda on foreign trips, even at the risk of provoking his hosts. For instance, in May 2014 he prayed at the controversial separation barrier on the West Bank, showing solidarity with Palestinians and irking the Israeli government.

Pope Francis’ itinerary takes him through many of the teeming, crumbling neighborhoods at the heart of Havana. The colonial city is a mix of restored plazas and churches that contrast starkly with decrepit buildings filled with poor residents.

Officials have given a face-lift to many of the streets the pope will pass by, slapping bright new pastel paint on buildings and repaving the potholed streets. “I wish the pope would come to my neighborhood so they would paint the house,” joked René Pérez, a Havana resident.

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About Marianne Bernard

I seek first the kingdom of Christ because everything else in this world is perishing. All that I have is from God who is always faithful. I have worked hard all my life and will continue as long as God lends me breath. The mistakes and bad judgments I made in my life all stemmed from me trying to work things out by myself. I have learned the hard way that the victory over all of my problems and the answers to all of my desires lie solely in my Savior, Jesus Christ.It is now my desire to share the words that God gives me to encourage and give hope to others who need the strength that only faith in Christ can give.

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