Pope Francis celebrated the final Mass of his four-day visit to Cuba, calling on Cubans to live a “revolution of tenderness”.
The Mass was celebrated at Cuba’s holiest shrine, the sanctuary of the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre.
Pope Francis then left for the United States, where he will address both houses of Congress.
The Pope has avoided any overt political statements during his visit to Cuba.
Commentators say the pontiff is expected to be more outspoken while in the US.
In Washington DC he will hold the first-ever canonization mass on US soil and then give the first address to Congress by a pope.
Pope Francis will then head to New York City for the 70th anniversary of the United Nations General Assembly.
The final leg of Pope Francis’ US tour is Philadelphia where the pontiff will preside over the Vatican’s World Meeting of Families.
It is being billed as one of the largest events in Philadelphia in modern times and could attract up to a million and half people.
During his time in Cuba, Pope Francis asked Cubans to follow the example set by the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre “to build bridges, to break down walls, to sow seeds of reconciliation”.
The Virgin symbolizes Cuba’s mixed Spanish and African roots.
Alluding to Cuba’s 1959 Communist revolution which brought Fidel Castro to power, Pope Francis said: “Our revolution comes about through tenderness, through the joy which always becomes closeness and compassion, which isn’t pain, and leads us to get involved in, and to serve, the life of others.”
During the trip, there have been complaints from some Cuban dissidents that Pope Francis did not receive them to hear their concerns about human rights on the island.
The Vatican said such a meeting was never on the agenda.
In his first speech after his arrival in Cuba, Pope Francis has called for the Church in the communist island to have “the freedom and the means” to pursue its mission.
Pope Francis also hailed improving ties between the US and Cuba as “an example of reconciliation for the whole world”.
The pontiff was greeted by Cuban President Raul Castro after landing in the capital, Havana.
He is due to celebrate Mass on September 20 in Havana’s iconic Revolution Square.
Photo Getty Images
Pope Francis will spend four days in Cuba before flying to the US.
Following his arrival on Cuba on September 19, thousands lined the route of the Pope’s motorcade to the home of the Vatican’s ambassador to Cuba.
Pope Francis – the first pontiff to hail from Latin America – is credited with helping the recent thaw in diplomatic relations between Cuba and the US.
President Raul Castro has thanked Pope Francis for his contribution.
Speaking at the airport alongside Raul Castro, Pope Francis urged further support for Cuba’s Catholics “so that the Church can continue to support and encourage the Cuban people in its hopes and concerns, with the freedom, the means and the space needed to bring the proclamation of the kingdom to the existential peripheries of society”.
The Pope also called on Cuba and the US to “persevere on the path” of detente.
On September 17, the Vatican said it hoped the Pope’s visit would help bring an end to the 53-year-old US embargo and lead to more freedom and human rights in Cuba.
The following day, the US announced eased restrictions on business and travel with Cuba, the latest move by President Barack Obama to improve relations.
Pope Francis’s trip will later take him to the US, which he will also be visiting for the first time since his election to the papacy.
The US has decided to ease restrictions on business and travel with Cuba ahead of Pope Francis visit to the communist island.
This is the latest move by President Barack Obama to improve relations with Cuba.
The rules, which go into effect on September 21, relate to travel, telecom, internet-based services, business operations, banking and remittances.
US businesses will now be allowed to open up locations in Cuba.
Cuban President Raul Castro and President Barack Obama discussed the move in a phone conversation on September 18.
The changes come as the US and Cuba normalize relations after 53 years.
“A stronger, more open US-Cuba relationship has the potential to create economic opportunities for both Americans and Cubans alike,” said US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew in a statement.
“By further easing these sanctions, the United States is helping to support the Cuban people in their effort to achieve the political and economic freedom necessary to build a democratic, prosperous and stable Cuba.”
Authorized travelers will be permitted to open and maintain bank accounts in Cuba, senior administration officials said on September 18.
Close relatives will now be allowed to accompany authorized travelers going to Cuba for educational, journalistic, humanitarian or religious activities or research.
Officials said travel to Cuba for tourist activity is still prohibited by statute.
Companies will also be able to import Cuban mobile applications to the US and hire Cuban nationals to work on them.
Barack Obama thinks the best way to strengthen the Cuban people is through contact, officials said.
In July, Cuba and the United States formally re-established relations, and in January the Obama administration announced initial changes to the Cuba sanctions program.
Ahead of Pope Francis’ visit to Cuba, and before Cuban President Raul Castro is set to address the United Nations, Cuba announced on September 18 the appointment of a US ambassador, the first since 1961.
Veteran diplomat Jose Cabanas will be Cuba’s ambassador to the US.
More than 50 activists who took part in a march calling on the Cuban government to release political prisoners have been detained in Havana.
The arrests come less than a week before a visit to Cuba by Pope Francis.
Most of the activists were members of the predominantly Catholic dissident group, Ladies in White.
They walked through the streets of Havana holding up pictures of political prisoners, before they were rounded up by police.
According to Cuba’s main dissident website, 14yMedio, members of Ladies in White and activists from other opposition groups were handcuffed and pushed into police cars and buses on September 13.
A number of them were released hours later, it said.
Cuba says the protesters are financed by right-wing American groups to destabilize the government.
Cuban dissidents are planning to protest during Pope Francis’ visit to Cuba, which begins on September 19.
They have accused the Cuban Catholic Church of becoming too cozy with the government of Raul Castro and failing to speak out against human rights abuses.
“The Church should be concerned about this or any time human rights are involved. It’s their duty,” said Jose Daniel Ferrer, head of leading dissident group Patriotic Union of Cuba.
Jose Daniel Ferrer told Reuters he was handcuffed and taken to a police station after Sunday’s protest.
Police later dropped him off at a bus terminal, he said.
The Cuban Catholic Church says it defends the respect of human rights but cannot take up individual political causes.
Pope Francis played a key role in facilitating the historic negotiations between Cuba and the US, which led to diplomatic relations being restored after more than five decades of hostilities.
Senior Cuban and American officials met in secrets for months at the Vatican before Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro surprised the world last December by announcing they had agreed to mend relations.
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