Pope wraps up Cuba trip, prepares for U.S. visit

HAVANA, CUBA – Pope Francis is preparing to visit the United States Tuesday. Tuesday morning the pope will celebrate mass at the Minor Basilica of the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity del Cobre in Cuba.

He’ll meet with families before participating in a farewell ceremony. He leaves for Washington, D.C. at 12:30 p.m. and is expected to arrive at Andrews Air Force Base at 4 p.m.

Pope Francis will address Congress Thursday and the UN General Assembly in New York Friday.

On Monday, the pope traveled from Havana to the eastern city of Holguin, the fourth-largest on the island. Singing children and a small crowd waving Cuban and Vatican flags greeted Francis upon his arrival at the airport. Holguin’s Plaza of the Revolution was packed with thousands of people waving flags as Francis traveled in his popemobile through the crowd.

Fifty-eight-year-old Idael Confesor Martinez Leyva wore a straw hat topped with Cuban and Vatican flags as she entered the plaza. She said the pope “is going to transform the world and bring us what we need most, especially the young people.”

Speaking in his homily at a large outdoor Mass in Holguin’s Revolution Plaza, the pontiff says Christ challenges us daily to believe in the possibility of personal transformation.

Francis says “He invites us slowly to overcome our preconceptions and our reluctance to think that others, much less ourselves, can change.”

Pope Francis has high praise for Cuba’s “mission houses,” private homes that opened their doors for priests and laypeople to worship during the decades when the Catholic Church was out in the cold.

Francis said in his homily at an outdoor Mass in Holguin that the houses deserve a “special mention” for helping to maintain the faith “despite the scarcity of churches and priests.”

The church was barred from building new houses of worship for years after Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution turned Cuba into a communist state. Many priests were expelled from the country or sent to military-run work camps in the countryside in the 1960s.

Today there are some 2,600 mission houses in Cuba – mostly in rural and mountainous parts of the island. That compares to 700 parishes.Church-state tensions have eased since the 1990s. Local Bishops’ Conference spokesman Orlando Marquez said Monday that construction of three new churches was recently authorized for Havana, Pinar del Rio and Santiago.

Pope Francis ended his day in Santiago on the southeastern coast of Cuba.

Pope Francis focuses on youth for religious future in Cuba

Walking around Old Havana, you’ll find a lot of classic cars, cathedrals, seminaries and very old convents. While their has been a religious past, what about the religious future? Cubans kids learn church hymns and get their religious education from relatives, an informal catechism. Religious schools are banned; many practice quietly at home.

Old Havana stores, vendors lack papal merchandise

News Channel 8 Anchor Gene Ramierez takes us on a brief tour of Old Havana shops. While many shops will sell hats with the Cuban flag, instruments and Afro-Cuban dolls, but one thing not seen is papal visit merchandise. Gene takes to the streets and talks to travelers and street vendors are the noticeably absent items.

Excitement builds for Pope Francis’ historic visit to the United States

Catholics around the county are really looking forward to the pope’s historic visit to the United States, and their expectations are high. News Channel 8 Anchor Jen Leigh is in Washington, DC, the first of three stops Pope Francis will be making in the country. Earlier this month, Jen met up with Father Ronald Mercier, a provincial superior of the Jesuits, in Tampa. He, like so many others, eagerly awaits the pope’s first visit to the U.S..

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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