For the second time in less than 15 years, Cubans are opening their arms to receive the visit of the highest authority in the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI, who will conclude in this Caribbean island his evangelist tour of Latin America that will have begun days prior in Mexico.
Pope Benedict XVI will be only the second Pontiff to travel to the island; the first being the historic visit in January 1998 by the now Blessed Pope John Paul II. On that occasion, he asked that “Cuba open to the world and the world open to Cuba.”
According to the program approved by the Holy See in the Vatican, the 84-year-old Pope will begin his March 26th to 28th visit to Cuba in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba. There, he will be received with an official welcoming ceremony in which representatives of the Cuban Catholic Bishops Conference and the Archbishop of that city, Dionisio García, will participate.
During a previous protocol meeting in Havana with the delegation from the Vatican, headed by Alberto Gasbarri who is responsible for the organization of the Holy See’s international pontifical travels, the Cuban Head of State declared that the supreme leader of the Catholic Church will be received with affection and respect during his stay on the Island.
This tour by Pope Benedict XVI, which includes Mexico and Cuba, is his second visit to Latin America since his 2007 visit to Brazil, and the first to Spanish-speaking countries in this region. In accordance with protocol, upon arrival at the airport in Santiago de Cuba, the Pope will be taken in a Popemobile to the city's Archbishopric. In the afternoon of the same day, March 26, an open-air mass will then be held in the “Antonio Maceo” Revolution Square, on the occasion of the Feast of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary.
Next, the Holy Father will go to the town of El Cobre, also located in Santiago de Cuba, where he will be lodged in the priest's residence. On the 27th, he will make a private visit to the shrine of El Cobre's Virgin of Charity, to pray before the venerated image of Cuba's patron saint.
The Pope's visit coincides with the Island's 2012 Year of Jubilee, when the fourth centennial of finding the image of the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre will be celebrated.
Starting in August 2010, the image of Charity was carried in an unprecedented pilgrimage some 30,000 kilometres across the Island, travelling through churches, schools, hospitals, prisons and public squares. The journey of the portrait concluded last December 30 with a Farewell Mass on Havana's Avenida del Puerto.
The Supreme Pontiff's three-day stay in Cuba will conclude in Havana, where he will be received in the capital's airport on March 27 by Cardinal Jaime Ortega, along with auxiliary bishops, and religious and civil authorities.
Pope Benedict XVI has scheduled an official meeting with President Raúl Castro and a meeting with Cuban Catholic bishops at the headquarters of the Apostolic Nunciature, where he will be lodged.
The last activity on the agenda of the Pope's visit to Cuba will be the celebration of a Mass on March 28 in Havana's emblematic “José Martí” Revolution Square.