Pope Francis lands in Cuba to improve US-Cuba relations

Pope Francis arrives in Cuban capital in efforts to enhance US-Cuba relations marking third papal visit to Cuba within two decades

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Pope Francis (L) is greeted by Cuba's Presidents Raul Castro during a welcoming ceremony at the Havana airport September 19, 2015.

Pope Francis urged Cuban President, Raul Castro and US President, Barack Obama on Saturday to set an example for the world to see by deepening the recent detente that the Latin American Pope has actually helped secretly mediate between the two former Cold War foes.

Pope’s arrival to the Cuban capital marked the start of his nine-day tour of both Cuba and US, beginning with a speech at the Havana airport to applaud this year's normalization of diplomatic relations.

"I urge political leaders to persevere on this path and to develop all its potentialities, as an example of reconciliation for the entire world," he said in his speech before riding his open-sided popemobile through roads flooded with welcomers.

Pope Francis is welcomed by Cubans as he rides his popemobile in Havana, September 19, 2015.

He then added that the Church will continue to "support and encourage the Cuban people in their hopes and concerns with the freedom, the means and the space needed."

Being the first ever Latin American pope, Francis is a popular figure in Cuba especially with Catholics who had been repressed in the early years following the nation's’ 1959 revolution, which made Cuba constitutionally atheist. However, the Castro brothers have loosened the religious stance in the country since the 1990s.

Maria Antonia Iglesias, 65, one of the people standing in the streets and waving a banner and clapping as Francisco passed by said "he brings hope for a better future for Cuba."

"Love, peace and more unity is what we need between all Cubans: those who are here and those in the United States" Iglesias said.

"I hope for economic improvements, more freedom for religion, respect for human rights of all ideologies in our nation."

Sandro Garcia, 39 years old, strumming a guitar along with others and singing said "I hope for economic improvements, more freedom for religion, respect for human rights of all ideologies in our nation."

Pope Francis is welcomed by Cubans during his journey from Jose Marti airport to the Nunciature in Havana, on September 19, 2015.

Elizardo Sanchez, part of the Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation, reported that between 10 and 20 dissidents have been arrested in an attempt to stop them from attending papal events.

"A similar number have been threatened or warned. It's preventive police repression," Sanchez said.

Among those who were detained was the leader of the Ladies in White group, Leticia Ramos who was planning on leading a group of pilgrims to Havana, he added.

Around 60 percent of Cuba's 11 million population are baptized Catholics, according to the Church, however, those who actually attend the church are less than 5 percent, and a majority of the Cuban people are believed to follow Afro-Cuban religions.

Pensioner Diego Carrera told AP that the Pope’s visit was "like a breath of hope blowing over Cuba" because of the recent role that the Pope played between the two countries.

On Thursday the Vatican said in a statement that it hoped for the visit to help bring an end to the 53-year-old US embargo on Cuba and lead to more freedom and human rights on the island.

The following day, the Obama administration declared eased restrictions on business and travel with the Communist Cuba, which is the latest move by President Obama in efforts to improve relations with Cuba.

TRTWorld and agencies