Hundreds of Cuban Americans are finding ways to get to Cuba in time for the pope’s scheduled visit to the island nation. The groups include more than 150 pilgrims organized by the Archdiocese of Miami were traveling to Cuba for the visit, as well as a smaller, private group that left earlier from Washington. Miami International Airport saw long ticket lines on Friday and workers at the José Martí International Airport in Havana saw many scenes of travelers reuniting with their families.
The pope’s visit to Cuba begins Saturday as he lands in Havana after a nearly 12-hour flight from Rome and is scheduled to last for four days. He is scheduled to celebrate Mass in the Plaza of the Revolution in Havana on Sunday. Cuban leader Raul Castro was baptized as a Catholic and educated by Jesuits. Earlier this year, Raul Castro reportedly told the Jesuit Francis that he might start praying again and return to the Church.
A couple of the travelers claimed that they had traveled to Miami from the suburbs of Los Angeles for an afternoon flight to Santiago, Cuba’s second-largest city. They said it was their first visit to their homeland in nearly 50 years. Pope Francis is scheduled to be in Santiago on Monday to visit the Santiago Cathedral parish and celebrate Mass on Tuesday in the Basilica of Our Lady of Charity just outside Santiago in El Cobre.
Many of the people traveling to Cuba to see the pope say that they admire his concern for the common people, his inherent understanding of Latin America, and his diplomacy skills. Pope Francis is the first pope from Latin America. This will be the third papal visit to the Caribbean island in less than two decades, after Pope John Paul II visited in 1998 and Pope Benedict visited in 2012.