March 26, 2012 by staff
Pope Mexico, He donned a sombrero and was serenaded by mariachi bands, embraced by Mexicans who called him their brother. Pope Benedict XVI has a bit of a tougher sell as he heads to a Cuba that until recently was officially atheist.
Benedict leaves behind Spanish-speaking Latin America’s most Roman Catholic country Monday and arrives in its least, hoping to inspire the same outpouring of faith on the communist-run island that he did in Mexico’s conservative Catholic heartland.
Pope Benedict XVI waves from the popemobile wearing a Mexican sombrero as he arrives to give a Mass in Bicentennial Park near Silao, Mexico, Sunday, March 25, 2012.
Benedict’s first stop is Santiago de Cuba, the island’s second city that is home to the Virgin of Charity of Cobre, a tiny wooden statue that is revered by Cubans, Catholic and not.
The pope will celebrate an open-air Mass Monday evening in Santiago’s main plaza then pray at the sanctuary housing the statue Tuesday before heading to Havana, where he will meet with Cuban President Raul Castro — and presumably his brother Fidel.
Benedict’s three-day stay in Cuba will of course spark comparisons to Pope John Paul II’s historic 1998 tour, when Fidel Castro shed his army fatigues for a suit and tie to greet the pope at Havana’s airport and where John Paul uttered the now famous words: “May Cuba, with all its magnificent potential, open itself up to the world, and may the world open itself up to Cuba.”
Those comparisons were also evident in Mexico, which had claimed John Paul as its own during his five visits over a nearly 27-year pontificate. But with his first visit to Mexico, Benedict appeared to lay to rest the impression that he is a distant, cold pontiff who can never compare to the charisma and personal connection forged by his predecessor.
“Some young people rejected the pope, saying he has an angry face. But now they see him like a grandfather,” said Cristian Roberto Cerda Reynoso, 17, a seminarian from Leon who attended Benedict’s Sunday Mass. “I see the youth filled with excitement and enthu9siasm.”
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