Pope Francis makes first visit to Cuba, United States, praises families’ strength

By Steven Viera || Senior Editor

Pope Francis concluded a nine-day tour of Cuba and the United States, his first visit to both countries, on Sunday, September 27. Throughout his trip, Francis spoke to masses of Catholics on the importance of the family and addressed world leaders, such as Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Barack Obama, as well as making the first ever papal speech to a joint session of Congress.

In Cuba, which enjoyed its third papal visit within a 17-year period, Francis celebrated masses in the cities of Havana and Holguin, including at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Charity, which honors the island’s patron saint.

“Our revolution comes about through tenderness, through the joy which always becomes closeness and compassion,” Francis said in his televised homily. According to this article in the Wall Street Journal, Francis’ choice of words is ironic, as Cuba celebrates its 1959 Communist Revolution, so these remarks may have a deeper meaning aimed at encouraging greater freedom for Cubans.

Many on the island praise Francis for his role in reestablishing diplomatic ties between Cuba and the United States, according to this article in USA Today. This has earned the pope the respect of many Cubans, both Catholics and non-believers, including an unlikely figure in this communist country where religious expression has been
suppressed.

“If the pope continues… I will go back to praying and go back to church, and I’m not joking,” said Raul Castro, Cuba’s president, last May, according to this article from Crux.

On Tuesday, Francis arrived in the United States, enjoying a formal welcome at the White House from President Obama before proceeding to a mass where he elevated Junipero Serra, a Franciscan priest who founded California’s first Catholic mission and converted Native Americans, to sainthood in the first canonization ceremony to occur on U.S. soil. However, as this article from Newsweek points out, not everyone is celebrating Serra: Native American groups believe Serra may have been responsible for enslaving and abusing natives while forcing them to become Catholics against their will.

On Thursday, Francis became the first pope in history to address a joint session of Congress, where he spoke on a number of issues facing the American people and the world. The pontiff–who, for one of the only times during his trip, spoke in English–called on Congress to inspire and uplift their fellow man.

Throughout his speech, Francis advocated for immigrants, religious liberty, the sanctity of life, traditional family values, environmental protections, an abolition of the death penalty, and a condemnation of the arms trade, giving lawmakers on either side of the aisle talking points to embrace or
criticize.

Surrounded by a host of Catholics who serve in government from both parties, including Joe Biden, vice president; John Boehner, speaker of the House; John Kerry, secretary of state; Nancy Pelosi, House Minority leader; and John C. Roberts, chief justice of the Supreme Court, Francis ended with a message that everyone could agree with: “God Bless America.”

On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, the pope traveled to New York City and Philadelphia, where he met with Catholic clergy, laypersons, and those in need, such as the homeless or the incarcerated. In Philadelphia, in a speech emceed by Mark Wahlberg and with music performed by Aretha Franklin, Francis spoke to thousands on the strength of the
family.

“In families,” he said, “there is always light.”

Senior Steven Viera is a senior editor. His email is sviera@fandm.edu.

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