Pope Francis on Tuesday said his last mass in communist Cuba, ahead of a ground-breaking trip to the United States.
“We want to be a Church which goes forth to build bridges, to break down walls, to sow seeds of reconciliation,” Francis said in Santiago before flying from Cuba to the United States to unite two former enemies in one highly symbolic trip.
The pope helped broker a historic rapprochement between Washington and Havana that ended a diplomatic freeze of more than half a century as the two nations restored diplomatic ties on July 20.
At the minor basilica of the shrine dedicated to the “Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre” outside Cuba’s second-largest city, the eastern Santiago, Francis called for a Roman Catholic church that is “committed to life, to culture, to society.”
After mass, the Argentinian-born pontiff was set to meet with Cuban families at Santiago cathedral before heading to the airport for a final farewell from Cuban President Raul Castro.
In Washington, the pontiff will be greeted by US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.
Highlights will include the canonization of Junipero Serra, a controversial 18th century missionary who established churches across California; speeches to Congress and the United Nations; a mass in New York’s Madison Square Garden; and a visit to the Ground Zero Memorial.
Francis is also due to meet with the homeless in Washington, migrant families in New York, and prison inmates in Philadelphia, where he will close the World Meeting of Families, before flying back to Rome September 27.