HAVANA (AP) — The latest developments in Pope Francis’ visit to Cuba and the United States. All times local (EDT):
Hundreds of people are planning to take buses or trains across long, winding route through Cuba’s rural heartland to see Pope Francis appear in Havana to the west or Holguin and Santiago to the east.
Fewer than a third of Cubans identify as Catholic, but rural Cubans are speaking warmly of the pope’s role in mediating detente between the U.S. and Cuba.
Many say they want the pope to pressure the U.S. to lift the trade embargo on Cuba, which many Cubans blame for economic woes that are more dire in the countryside than in the more connected cities.
In the sugarcane-farming town of Taguasco, Marisela Hernandez says she things the papal visit “is going to bring us good things.” The 52-year-old worker in a glasses store says people in the U.S. “need to know that the embargo is hurting our economy.”
Forty-three-year-old Farmworker Osmel Morffi hung a poster of the pope in a roadside shrine to the Virgin of Charity of Cobre, Cuba’s patron saint.
He says, “We need the pope to bring better relations between the U.S. and Cuba.” And he adds, “We’ve been in this conflict for so many years.”
Argentine President Cristina Fernandez is in the Cuban capital on an official visit that coincides with a trip by Pope Francis.
Cuba’s Foreign Ministry says Fernandez arrived Saturday morning and is scheduled to meet with President Raul Castro.
Fernandez plans to attend a Mass celebrated by Francis on Sunday at Havana’s Revolution Square.
She has met several times with Francis, who was archbishop of Buenos Aires before he became pontiff in 2013.
The Cuban government has launched a citywide effort to bring crowds into the streets of Havana. It’s offering a day’s pay, snacks and transportation to state workers who gather along the pope’s route from the airport to his residence at the Papal Ambassador’s home. University students also have been recruited to come out for the pope.
Participants almost universally praise the pope’s role in mediating detente between the United States and Cuba, saying they hope his visit to the two countries will accelerate the process of normalization.
Fifty-one-year-old accountant Magaly Delgado says she’ll turn out. In her words, “I’m going because I’m a believer and this pope interests me a lot because of all the change that he’s making.”
Seventy-one-year old retiree Diego Carrera says “This visit is like a breath of hope blowing over Cuba.” He says that’s because of the role that the pope played in the reestablishment of relations with the U.S.
Pope Francis has departed for Cuba, starting a 10-day pilgrimage that will also take him to the United States.
The special Alitalia flight flying the pope and his entourage took off from Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci airport shortly after 10:30 a.m. (0830 GMT) Saturday. Following Cuba, Francis will visit three U.S. cities: Washington, D.C., New York and Philadelphia.