Preparing to welcome the Pope to Cuba

2012-03-26 Vatican Radio

The People and the authorities of Cuba are getting ready to welcome Pope Benedict XVI who is sheduled to arrive in the capital, Havana, on Monday, at about 2pm local time.

The director of Vatican Radio's German Programme, Jesuit Father Bernt Hagenkord, is already in Havana awaiting the Pope's arrival. He's been walking the streets and talking to the people there, to find out what their expectations are, and how they intend to greet him...

It is not your usual Papal visit that begins this Monday. It is obvious to everyone who wanders through the streets of la Habana these days.

The visit is almost invisible. We are in year 54 of the revolution and the signs of the times tell of changes, beginning with small economic measures. However, this does not change the overall relationship between Church and State.

There is no public advertisement in la Habana, no billboards, no one tries to sell anything in the loud and visible way. To the western eye this is rather relaxing for a change. However, this also goes for the papal visit. There are hardly any pictures or banners welcoming Benedict XVI. There are some minor posters hanging on lampposts, but that is about it.

The people on the streets however know about their visitor.

Alejandro for example: he wears his rosary like a necklace for the occasion. On a normal Monday he would be working in a small shop, producing Cuba’s famous cigars. But since all Habana has two days off he enjoys his day, later he will go to the airport to greet the Pope.

In the parish around the corner there are special prayer-services for the visit. The people there whish for stimuli for their faith and for their small but ever growing community.

The Journalists mostly went to the Church of Santa Rita on Sunday.

There – in the quarter of the town where embassies are located – there they wanted t contact the Damas en Blanco, women, who protest against the imprisonment of members of the family.

The parish priest, Fr. José Felix, who also serves as deputy secretary general of the national conference of bishops, had to admonish the assembled visitors with their cameras not to disturb the service. Afterwards some of the Ladies in White told us, that they will attend the papal mass, but not dressed in white, they want to celebrate with the pope, not demonstrate.

A lot of preparation went into this visit, organisatorial as well as diplomatical, although it is not really visible in the streets.

However, and in this all people I could talk to agree, it will like its predecessor leave a changed Church and as many hope a changed country.

From Havanna Father Bernd Hagenkord

listen to Father Hagenkord's report...