Benedict XVI Welcomed to Cuba

Mexico Trip Was ‘Brief But Intense’

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By Paloma Rives, Special Envoy

LEON, MARCH 26, 2012 ( On Monday, Benedict XVI concluded what was, in his own words, a “brief but intense” visit to Mexico and flew to Cuba, where he was hailed on his arrival at the airport.

It was 5 am in Leon, Guanajuato, and some of us journalists, accredited by the Holy See, attended the Mass that the organization offers us every day in the hotel.

It was now a few hours before our departure for Cuba. We gave one another the sign of peace and reviewed mentally the images of the Mass that the Holy Father celebrated in Bicentenary Park.

Not only Mexicans were smiling, but also others who shared their smiles with the Pope.

The Holy Father’s facial expression was more than eloquent, especially when he wore a traditional Mexican sombrero while riding in the popemobile. 

And the Pope was appreciated thus, reflecting his profound love for Mexico.

There were those who expressed their emotion, and others who showed their surprise on seeing in the Pontiff a sensitivity that, perhaps, the Mexican people were not expecting.

They had held, perhaps, a perceptions of a leader of great wisdom but too formal, governed more by his reason than his heart.

But Mexico got to know Benedict XVI.


By now it was 6 am. We took our baggage down to the hotel’s entrance, where the Vatican’s logistics team received it with impeccable organization, documenting it for the papal flight. We were given our plane ticket and showed the area where buses were waiting to take us to Guanajuato’s international airport, thus continuing to accompany Benedict XVI on his pastoral trip to Latin America.

We had breakfast in the hotel. The comments of journalists, waiters and staff were all the same: the Pope looked happy, devoted, convinced that Mexico had received him with the joy and participation that not even many of us could have imagined.

As we left the hotel, we were greeted by young people, women and children who had waited for hours to see His Holiness. Unlike in Rome, where we were ushered inside the airport while waiting to board our plane, here we were taken to the area of the hangars, where the farewell took place. In his final discourse, the Holy Father spoke of the affection for Mexico he will be taking with him.

The singing, chanting, and applause proved that it was reciprocal. 


We were now seated in the plane and confirmed that all lasting and fruitful human relationships begin, in fact, knowing the truth of the other, his innermost being. The Pope visited Mexico and Mexico got to know Benedict XVI.

We opened the program of activities: the next city was Santiago de Cuba.

More than 600,000 people gathered in Leon, Guanajuato, to see the Pope. How many, how and who will receive him in Cuba? There is a phrase that states that it is necessary to know history – human relations also have their history – to understand the present.

What happened during the visit of Benedict XVI’s predecessor?

Paloma Gomez Borrero appears to “visit” the line waiting for the plane where we are. Paloma is a woman who has traveled the world accompanying the leader of the Catholic Church for years. She is Spanish and told us that she has the habit of sending postcards to her loved ones from the places she visits with His Holiness.

We talked about Mexico and then focused on Cuba. “During John Paul II’s visit, there was a moment when he was meeting with Fidel Castro, when the cry ‘Liberty!’ was heard. And His Holiness answered: ‘yes, the liberty that Christ gives!'» the journalist recalled with emotion.

“Fidel went to see us in Revolution Square before the Mass began,” she continued. “He didn’t speak to anyone, In fact, it was during that Mass that a very strong wind was felt and the Pope said: it is the wind of the Spirit that is above Cuba.”

We talked of whether Benedict would meet with Fidel Castro in Havana on Wednesday, or if he would meet with Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chavez, who is in Cuba for cancer treatment. 

In fact, that same day, Monday, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi confirmed that Chavez was in Cuba. We all agreed that, if a man with such a serious illness, even in danger of death, wants to attend a Mass to receive a blessing, what priest, what Pope would deny that to him … hoping that his illness would be the real reason for his attendance.

We continued chatting as we approached Santiago de Cuba.


As we left the plane, President Raul Castro was in view. As the Pope came down the steps, the thunderous sound of cannons was heard, blasting several times. The Cuban military corps carried the two flags and did the honors.

Special guests who were on the airport’s balcony began to shout: “The Pope’s youth is here,» crying out in unison: «Benedict, we love you!”

After going through immigration we were taken by bus to our hotel, where we were received with music, tropical fruit juices and much joy.

We had some 10-15 minutes to find our rooms, drop our luggage and go to Antonio Maceo Square in Santiago de Cuba for Mass.

We got there on time, despite the fact that Cuban security officials had to check the buses before we could board.

We arrived at the Square. Data provided by the Vatican Press Office indicated that 200,000 attended the Mass.

The altar looked like a miter. It was very large, and priests were waiting there The song “Pilgrim of Charity” began to be heard, which moved those present even more. Then the pilgrim Virgin of Charity of Cobre arrived.

Once the Virgin was placed on the altar, we heard that the Pope was about to arrive. And so he did. As he was preparing behind the scenes for the Mass, the cry was heard: “Down with Communism! We don’t want dictatorship any longer! Don’t let yourselves be deceived!”

Cuban security immediately detained the one responsible. The music continued, louder than before, and moments later the Mass began presided over by the Pope.

We have arrived in Cuba. We witnessed the faith of Cubans. On Tuesday we head to Havana.

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