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Pope Francis Celebrates Mass in Havana

Pope Francis has begun his first full day in Cuba, holding Sunday Mass in Havana’s historic Revolutionary Square.

Pope Francis arrives for Mass at Revolution Plaza in Havana, Cuba, where people wave Cuban, Vatican and Argentine flags, Sept. 20, 2015.

Pope Francis arrives for Mass at Revolution Plaza in Havana, Cuba, where people wave Cuban, Vatican and Argentine flags, Sept. 20, 2015.

Hundreds of thousands have gathered to see the pontiff speak near a massive image of Cuba’s revolutionary leader Che Guevara.

The pope, speaking to thousands of Cubans gathered Sunday for his first Mass in Havana’s Revolution Plaza, urged Cubans to look out for one another and not just judge others on what they are or are not doing.

He said Cubans should avoid “judgmental looks.”

“All of us are asked, indeed urged, by Jesus to care for one another out of love. … Without looking to one side or the other to see what our neighbor is doing or not doing,” Francis said, according to The Associated Press.

It wasn’t immediately clear what the pontiff was referring to.

But many Cubans complain about the rigidity of a system in which virtually every aspect of life is controlled by the government, from cultural institutions to block-level neighborhood watch committees, in which people are excluded or lose benefits if they are perceived as being disloyal or unfaithful to the principles.

Also, speaking at the end of Mass, the pope called on the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and the government to achieve a lasting peace deal.

“We do not have the right to allow ourselves yet another failure,” he said of the nearly three-year-old peace process, the latest effort to end a civil war that began in 1964 and has killed more than 200,000 people.

“May the blood shed by thousands of innocent peo

Church marginalized

Pope Francis’s visit marks a turning point for the Catholic Church in Cuba, which was marginalized for years under Castro’s communist rule, but has slowly re-emerged as as powerful force on the Caribbean island.

The pope arrived in Havana Saturday for a three-day visit that marks the third papal visit to Cuba over the past two decades — John Paul the Second in 1998, and Pope Benedict in 2012.

He was greeted by Raul Castro who assured Francis in his welcoming remarks that religious freedom is “consecrated in Cuba’s constitution.”

Francis will also travel to the cities of Hoguin and Santiago during his visit, with plans to hold Mass and meet with Catholic clergy in both cities before departing for Washington.

The pontiff and Vatican officials facilitated several months of secret talks between Havana and Washington in 2014 that ended with last December’s historic announcements by Raul Castro and U.S. President Barack Obama that the two countries had decided to re-establish diplomatic ties that were severed in 1961, two years after Fidel Castro overthrew President Fulgencio Batista.

ple during long decades of armed conflict… sustain all the efforts being made, including those on this beautiful island, to achieve definitive reconciliation,” the pope said in his Angelus address, according to the French news agency AFP.

Following the service, Francis is scheduled to hold a private meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro, and may pay a visit to Castro’s ailing brother and predecessor, 89-year-old Fidel Castro.

The pope will later hold evening prayers with a group of priests and other church officials, then speak before a group of young people at a cultural center.

They have since re-opened embassies in Washington and Havana.

Upon his arrival in Havana, Francis praised the detente between the two long-estranged neighbors as “an example of reconciliation for the entire world” that “fills us with hope.”

‘Sign of victory’

He called the thawing of relations between the two nations “a sign of the victory of the culture of encounter and dialogue.”

In a 15-minute speech that quickly turned political, President Castro repeated calls for the U.S. to end its embargo of the island, which he called “cruel, immoral and illegal,” and for the return of Guantanamo Naval Station.

Washington imposed the embargo in 1962, and the current Republican-led Congress has ignored President Obama’s calls to end it.

The United States’ U.N. ambassador in turn tweeted criticism of Cuban authorities over reported detentions in advance of Pope Francis’ visit.

Ambassador Samantha Power’s tweet said human rights activists “and even homeless reportedly detained before @Pontifex visit; disappointing business as usual for #Cuban govt.”

Opposition groups have been reporting increased detentions of dissidents. Cuba’s government has not commented on the claims.

The pontiff’s U.S. schedule will include a private meeting with Obama, who will greet Francis when he arrives at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington; speeches before a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress and the United Nations in New York; and an appearance before a Vatican-sponsored World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.


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