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Cuban-American Catholics To Pope Francis: Reform As Important As Reconciliation

Tim Padgett
A mostly Cuban-American congregation celebrates Mass at La Ermita Roman Catholic Church in Coconut Grove Sunday morning.

As Pope Francis celebrated Mass in Cuba on Sunday, Cuban-Americans did the same here in South Florida – but most prayed that the Pope would convince Cuba’s communist leader, Raúl Castro, to adopt more democratic reforms on the island.

At La Ermita Roman Catholic church in Coconut Grove – a shrine to Cuba’s patron saint, Our Lady of Charity – Sunday morning Mass was standing-room-only. And many had just finished listening to Pope Francis’ homily live from Havana on Spanish-language radio.

Most Cuban-Americans who gathered at La Ermita seemed to embrace Francis' message of U.S.-Cuba reconciliation. But they also hoped that during his visit with Raúl Castro later in the day, the Pope would push for improved human rights and democratization.

“I hope the Pope can really make a difference in Raúl Castro’s life – and he can change a little bit of him," said Cuban exile Cary Cámara, who came to the U.S. as a child to escape the Castro revolution.  "So maybe this is like a sign that things are going to get better in Cuba for everybody.”

As he arrived at Miami International Airport on Friday to leave for Cuba, Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski pointed out that Cuba’s bishops have sent Castro letters in recent years urging faster reform.

“I think the Pope will back up the Cuban bishops," said Wenski, "and encourage some more proactive and perhaps brave steps forward.”

Pope Francis is set to pray at the original shrine to Our Lady of Charity near Santiago, Cuba, Monday evening.

Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida.