Day 3 - Sept. 20

Posted October 19, 2015
Updated October 21, 2015

Cell phones and tablets popped into the air capturing who was coming directly our way, Pope Francis.

Day 3 - Sept. 20

This is the big day.

We originally planned to ride into Revolution Square with the international press for the papal mass. We would have been escorted and had a comfy spot on a platform for the press. We were actually assigned one of the last spots available.

But we made a last minute decision to go on our own. We knew it would likely be a traffic nightmare, but it was important to experience this moment with the people of Cuba, not my fellow journalists.

We woke up early and weren’t feeling great. Let’s just say we probably should have avoided some of the street food. Any other day, we would have called out sick in our condition. But, we were in Cuba and so was the pope. No sick days allowed.

Andy was already waiting for us in front of the hotel at 7 a.m.

We wanted to leave early to avoid the traffic and meet up with a couple from Raleigh that was in Havana with plans to attend the mass. We met Cary and Mandy Strickland, of Raleigh, and rode with them to Revolution Square. Lucky for us, our press visa actually allowed us to zip right through the blocked roads.

We followed the music, walking as far as we could into the square before being stopped at a small metal barricade. Everyone seemed lost, myself included. Nobody knew what was happening, but before we knew it the crowd begin to cheer. Cell phones and tablets popped into the air capturing who was coming directly our way, Pope Francis. I couldn’t believe we were so close. He was 20 to 30 feet away and this time, the popemobile was moving slowly. It gave everyone a chance to really see him, get a good picture, and possibly make eye contact with him.

Pope Francis passed our area. With all eyes and cell phones still pointed in his direction, he suddenly stopped. I was on my tippy toes when I heard Cary say, “Is he getting out? Yes, he’s getting out.” The crowd was overjoyed. The pontiff actually got out to make contact with the people. The mass had not even started, and I could feel the power of this pope’s presence. The woman behind me jumped and waved the Cuban flag. I snapped a picture.

The pope made his way to the stage, and the guards lifted the gates for the people to make their way into the square. We found a good spot and settled in with the crowd. I suppose “good” is a relative term because I was too short to see anything. But Cary and Mandy, Zac, and most importantly, the camera, had a decent view.

During the mass, I noticed many reading from pamphlets. Most didn’t have the profession of faith memorized, which indicated to me that they likely were not practicing Catholics. They were likely there just to see what Pope Francis had to say.

He called for service and reconciliation He brought attention to the crisis in Colombia and called for peace.

As mass continued, it was powerful to see Cubans shaking hands with Americans and saying, "peace be with you."

But the biggest reaction came from a humble request from the pope as mass was coming to an end. He asked the people of Cuba to pray for him. The woman next to me brought both of her hands to her chest and covered her heart saying, “aww.” It was an intimate moment between Pope Francis and the Cuban people.


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