GOOD

Why a Papal Mass Matters in Havana

Cubans share their hopes with GOOD during a historic visit from Pope Francis.

Luisa, 75, on her way to the mass. Image by Julie Schwietert Collazo

By 8 a.m. this morning, an hour before Pope Francis was scheduled to start Mass in Havana’s iconic Revolution Plaza (Plaza de la Revolución), crowds of faithful—and not so faithful—had already filled the large rectangular lot that sits in the shadow of some of the Cuban capital's most photographed structures. To their backs was the National Library, whose facade had been draped with a giant banner depicting Jesus and the phrase “Vengan a Mi,” or “Come to Me.” To their right, were images of Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos, heroes of the Cuban Revolution, who looked upon the crowd from their permanent locations on the side of two government buildings. “Che and Pope Francis, Argentina’s heroes,” whispered a woman visiting from Argentina, the Pope’s home country, as a chorus began to sing hymns.


Soon, in front of them, Pope Francis would appear.

But in the meantime, they kept coming. They came on buses, which began lining up by the dozens on side streets of Havana's neighborhoods shortly after 6 a.m. And they came on foot, already drenched in sweat from the island’s intense humidity, but eager to elbow their way to the front of the crowd. One was Luisa, a 75-year-old Catholic woman who walked a mile from her Centro Habana neighborhood to the plaza. “I love him because he is the pope of the poor,” she said. More than anything, she wanted to be among the 40,000 people expected to show up for Pope Francisco’s first Mass in Cuba in order to receive the blessing of the Catholic Church’s most important leader.

Luisa wasn't the only one eager to receive a papal blessing. Catholics from all over Latin America—Argentina, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, and Puerto Rico—made pilgrimages, hopeful that the first Latin-American pope might have some special words for them. They weren’t disappointed. At the conclusion of the Mass, Pope Francis rose to address the crowd a final time, saying that he wanted to offer a special message about Colombia. “May Christ continue to sustain efforts that have been made to resolve the decades-long armed conflict [in Colombia],” he said, adding, “Please, we cannot allow another failure on this road to peace.” The remarks were not out of place; Cuba has been key to hosting and mediating talks between the Colombian stakeholder groups involved in that conflict.

Of course, many onlookers, both those in the square and those watching on television in Cuba and abroad, were waiting with bated breath to hear what Pope Francis might have to say about Cuba itself. The Havana Mass, particularly given its symbolic location, seemed like a perfect moment for the pontiff, who has been instrumental in the renewal of U.S.-Cuba relations, and who will be visiting the United States and the United Nations General Assembly after he concludes his Cuba tour, to address hot button issues. Would he address human rights violations in Cuba? Would he make a bold statement about freedom of speech, freedom of the press, or the protection of religious liberties?

Image by Julie Schwietert Collazo

He did not—not overtly, anyway. In his 13-minute homily, the pope expounded upon the Gospel reading, from the Book of Mark, Chapter 9, Verses 30-37. The central idea of this gospel reading is, “Let he who wants to be first, be the last among all and the servant of all,” and in his homily, Pope Francis spoke about the motivation behind and meaning of true service. “Who is the most important?” the pontiff asked rhetorically, adding, “Jesus is not afraid of our questions. And he is not afraid of the distinct paths we take on our search for answers. Let us recognize that those who wish to serve must defend and care for the fragile among us.” He added, “Service is never ideological,” which seemed to be the most pointed phrase of his homily and end-of-Mass remarks.

It was a message that could resonate with anyone in the crowd, but many Cubans present were especially thrilled to hear it, even if presented in the form of metaphor. For young Catholics, in particular, Pope Francis's homily was a message of hope, and one that inspired them. Reiniel Hernández Sierra, a university student who identifies as Catholic, said that Pope Francis’ message was “just what we needed,” and he left the Mass feeling a renewed commitment to his faith. “His visit and his words are a blessing,” Hernández said. “I believe the most important thing about his message [were his final words]: ‘Those who don’t live to serve don’t serve to live’.” It's a message Hernández believes is especially relevant for young Cubans, who, he says, need to hear about the importance of being of service to others.

Hernández attended the Mass as part of a group of college students who identify as Catholic and practice their faith openly. This isn’t always easy in Cuba, he and his friends say, in part because they have difficulty receiving books and other reading materials that they feel would deepen their faith. While Cuba’s constitution indicates that there is a separation between church and state and that “the distinct beliefs and religions enjoy equal consideration [under the law],” their day-to-day reality doesn't always square with that ideal.

Another member of Hernández’s group, who asked that only her first name, Yeleani, be used, said that she has been in classrooms where school officials have entered and asked students to identify their religious affiliations. The climate isn’t one of fear, the students say, or of overt repression, but they wish that they could feel more free about expressing their faith. Since the revolution brought Fidel Castro’s government to power in 1959, relations between the Church and Havana have often been strained or worse. A 1998 visit from the late Pope John Paul II indicated that divide was beginning to narrow, and new churches, an expansion of the Church’s local social work, and now Pope Francis’ visit have all been reported as signs that momentum is likely to continue.

Armando and Yoao Pujol at the mass in Havana. Image by Julie Schwietert Collazo

Armando Pujol and his son, Yoao Pujol, who live in Havana and attended the papal Mass, said that they have noticed more people attending their church recently, and they are hopeful that the pope's visit, along with warmer U.S.-Cuba relations and the pope’s role in that détente, will open a new chapter for the history of the Catholic church in Cuba.

For 62-year old Fernando, who I met walking on the street the day before the papal Mass, even if there's no long-term effect of the pope's visit, he’s happy that the pontiff chose to come to Cuba. When asked if he identified as Catholic he laughed and said, “No, but I’m part of the pueblo, right? And if he came to bless the people, then he came to bless me, too.”

Articles
Photo by Li-An Lim on Unsplash

The future generations will have to live on this Earth for years to come, and, not surprisingly, they're very concerned about the fate of our planet. We've seen a rise in youth activists, such as Greta Thunberg, who are raising awareness for climate change. A recent survey indicates that those efforts are working, as more and more Americans (especially young Americans) feel concerned about climate change.

A new CBS News poll found that 70% of Americans between 18 and 29 feel climate change is a crisis or a serious problem, while 58% of Americans over the age of 65 share those beliefs. Additionally, younger generations are more likely to feel like it's their personal responsibility to address climate change, as well as think that transitioning to 100% renewable energy is viable. Overall, 25% of Americans feel that climate change is a "crisis," and 35% feel it is a "serious problem." 10% of Americans said they think climate change is a minor problem, and 16% of Americans feel it is not a problem that worries them.

The poll found that concern for the environment isn't a partisan issue – or at least when it comes to younger generations. Two-thirds of Republicans under the age of 45 feel that addressing climate change is their duty, sentiments shared by only 38% of Republicans over the age of 45.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet

The healthcare systems in the United States and the United Kingdom couldn't be more different.

The UK's National Health Service is the largest government-run healthcare system in the world and the US's is largest private sector system.

Almost all essential health services in the UK are free, whereas in America cost can vary wildly based on insurance, co pays and what the hospitals and physicians choose to charge.

A medical bill in the US

One of the largest differences is cost. The average person in the UK spends £2,989 ($3915) per year on healthcare (most of which is collected through taxes), whereas the average American spends around $10,739 a year.

So Americans should obviously be getting better care, right? Well, the average life expectancy in the UK is higher and infant mortality rate is lower than that in the US.

RELATED: The World Health Organization declares war on the out of control price of insulin

Plus, in the U.S., only 84% of people are covered by private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid. Sixteen percent of the population are forced to pay out of pocket.

In the UK, everyone is covered unless they are visiting the country or an undocumented resident.

Prescription drugs can cost Americans an arm and a leg, but in the UK, prescriptions or either free or capped at £8.60 ($11.27).

via Wikimedia Commons

The one drawback to the NHS system is responsiveness. In the UK people tend to wait longer for inessential surgeries, doctor's appointments, and in emergency rooms. Whereas, the US is ranked as the most responsive country in the world.

RELATED: Alarmingly high insulin prices are forcing Americans to flock to Canada to buy the drug

The New York Times printed a fair evaluation of the UK's system:

The service is known for its simplicity: It is free at the point of use to anyone who needs it. Paperwork is minimal, and most patients never see a bill. … No one needs to delay medical treatment until he or she can afford it, and virtually everyone is covered. …

According to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States spent 17.2 percent of its economic output on health care in 2016, compared with 9.7 percent in Britain. Yet Britain has a higher life expectancy at birth and lower infant mortality.

Citizens in each country have an interesting perspective on each other's healthcare systems. UK citizens think it's inhumane for Americans have to pay through the nose when they're sick or injured. While Americans are skeptical of socialist medicine.

A reporter from Politics Joe hit the streets of London and asked everyday people what they think Americans pay for healthcare and they were completely shocked.

Health
via Found Animals Foundation / Flickr

Service dogs are true blessings that provide a wide array of services for their owners based on their disability.

They can provide preventative alerts for people with epilepsy and dysautonomia. They can do small household tasks like turning lights on and off or providing stability for their owners while standing or walking.

For those with PTSD they can provide emotional support to help them in triggering situations.

However, there are many people out there who fraudulently claim their pets are service or emotional support animals. These trained animals can cause disturbances in businesses or on public transportation.

Keep Reading Show less
Communities