Papal spokesman briefs press on two-country trip that begins this weekend
There is a good chance Pope Francis will meet with Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro when the Pope goes to Cuba next week.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said Tuesday that “in all likelihood it’s very predictable that it will happen, clearly during the day in Havana.” He said, though, that no specific time has been added to the Pope’s schedule for such a meeting.
“We have to see when is easier, or when it’s possible to organize it. But it’s very likely that it will happen,” Father Lombardi told reporters.
“The desire has also been expressed by the State, also when President Raul Castro came here to Rome, so it’s quite normal,” the spokesman added.
He made his comments during a Sept. 15 press briefing on the Pope’s upcoming trip to Cuba and the United States.
Pope Francis will arrive in Havana Saturday, Sept. 19. The next morning he is set to meet with Raul Castro, current Cuban president and younger brother to Fidel, the longtime president.
After Havana, the Pope will travel to Holguín Sept. 21, where he will celebrate Mass and bless the city before flying to Santiago that evening. He departs from Santiago at 12:30 p.m. on the 22nd, and is scheduled to land in Washington D.C. at 4 p.m. local time.
Last year, Pope Francis helped broker improved relations between Cuba and the United States, culminating in the full restoration of diplomatic ties after more than 50 years of strained relations.
Father Lombardi also announced during the press briefing that Pope Francis will administer First Communion to five children during Sunday’s Mass in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución, according to Catholic News Agency. The Pope giving first Communions is a first for him on a trip abroad, the spokesman said, noting that it serves as a sign “of hope and growth” for Church in Cuba.
The papal spokesman also noted how the Pope’s visit Monday to Santiago’s shrine for Our Lady of Charity falls during the 100th anniversary of the letter sent to Pope Benedict XV by veterans of the Cuban war for independence, asking him to declare her Patroness of Cuba. This detail, he said, makes the visit more significant for the Cuban people.
As for the US leg of the journey, Father Lombardi said that after the Pope lands in Washington D.C., Sept. 23, he will be welcomed by President Obama, the First Lady and likely their two children. He will speak to them and U.S. authorities in English the next morning.
His historic address to Congress Sept. 24 will be in English, and Father Lombardi said it will be an opportunity for him to speak to all U.S. citizens, “not just the Catholics.” The Mass to canonize Blessed Junipero Serra will be in Spanish, however, with the first reading conducted in a Native American language.
The Pope’s visit to the headquarters of the United Nations in New York will take place in Spanish, Father Lombardi said.
According to the Missal that will be used during the papal visit, parts of the Masses the Pope will celebrate in New York and Philadelphia will be in Latin.