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Pope Francis Holds Public Mass In Holguin, Cuba


Pope Francis is seen as a catalyst at the rapprochement between Cuba Cuba and the U.S., and he's wrapping up a visit to Cuba before coming tomorrow to the United States. So far, the Pope hasn't made any overtly political remarks about Cuba's communist regime and has been welcomed by hundreds of thousands of people there. Today, he visited the eastern city of Holguin, a place that's never been visited by a pope before. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli is traveling with the Pope, and we reached her in Holguin. And Sylvia, what has the scene been like there?

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Well, despite the very hot, muggy weather, Holguin's Revolution Square was packed with thousands of people waving flags. This is known as the capital of Cuban music, and Francis was given a very lively Caribbean welcome by a group of young singers.

MCEVERS: Pope Francis arrived in Cuba on Saturday. He spent most of Sunday in Havana celebrating mass and meeting with the Castro's - current president, Raul, former president Fidel. I mean, how has the reception been overall?

POGGIOLI: The reaction has been very festive, very joyful. And there's been some funny contrapositions seeing him celebrating mass in Revolution Square under a huge metal portrait of the revolutionary hero Che Guevara. Like his predecessors, however, the Pope has not met any dissidents. Several have been arrested. The Vatican spokesman said yesterday that some dissidents had been invited to papal events, but he didn't know why the greetings didn't take place. Now, the fact is that the Vatican has long feared a violent transition in Cuba, and Francis is very keen on the idea that it should be the Catholic Church that will act as the moral guide to help Cuban society transition away from communism.

MCEVERS: The Pope arrives here tomorrow afternoon for his first visit to the United States. He has generated an enormous amount of controversy for his straight talk. You know, it's steering the church to be more inclusive and less judgmental - not to mention this denouncement of capitalism and human beings' contribution to climate change. What can Americans expect to hear from Pope Francis?

POGGIOLI: Well, just about anything because he's really very unpredictable and sometimes contradictory. I think he himself might be a little nervous about arriving in the U.S. He's never been there. His English is not very good, and he is a Latin-American who shares many of his fellow countrymen's diffidence toward the big, wealthy, energy-sucking superpower to the north.

I think some people will be very uncomfortable with what he has to say. For example, when he talks about what he calls the consumerist throwaway culture that, in his mind, throws away not only material goods and food but also the nonproductive elderly, the sick and the frail. But you know, more than his formal speeches, he's going to address Congress and the United Nations. I think Americans will probably have a better impression of him when he encounters ordinary people. That's when he really comes into his element. And while in the U.S., he's going to meet homeless people, children of immigrants and prison inmates.

MCEVERS: The church has been polarized by Pope Francis, right? I mean, his liberal leanings have anchored the church's more conservative wing. Is this likely to be on display during his visit here this week?

POGGIOLI: Yeah. When he comes to social issues - the economy and the environment - I think they definitely will be on display, and conservatives both in the church and out won't like that. But there are other positions he takes which make liberals within the church squirm. But you probably won't hear him come down judgmentally on issues of sexual morality. His priorities are the poor, the forgotten, the marginalized. He really talks a lot about the need for mercy - a more forgiving approach to the church's position on sin.

MCEVERS: That's NPR's Sylvia Poggioli traveling with the Pope in Cuba. Thanks so much, Sylvia.

POGGIOLI: Thank you, Kelly. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sylvia Poggioli is senior European correspondent for NPR's International Desk covering political, economic, and cultural news in Italy, the Vatican, Western Europe, and the Balkans. Poggioli's on-air reporting and analysis have encompassed the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the turbulent civil war in the former Yugoslavia, and how immigration has transformed European societies.
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