Just a brief note to start this column today to thank so many of you who, through Facebook messages and emails, have said you are looking forward to my participation in the coverage of the papal visit to the U.S. and who have wished me safe travels. I’ve even received invitations to speak post-papal trip about what it is like to cover the visit of a Pope. However, I will not be on this trip. I know my colleagues will be doing very able jobs and that the coverage will be special.

Maybe I’ll try to be at the airport next Monday – or the Santa Marta residence – when Pope Francis returns and I can officially welcome him back to Rome!

I am sure you all have been following Pope Francis’s first days and events in Cuba and that you’ll be even more riveted to the television – or perhaps the radio or some form of social media – when the Holy Father arrives Washington, D.C. tomorrow.

There are countless ways, with EWTN alone, to follow the Pope’s every move, every word, every embrace of a little child or disabled person, every homily or important speech as, in coming days, he addresses a joint session of the U.S. Congress and speaks at the U.N. in New York. Thus, I’ll not be doing a summary every day of the papal visit as you will have already seen and heard all he important news stories, but I do have a few interesting items today for this column.

I’ve spent part of this afternoon, and will spend this evening, watching the coverage of Pope Francis’ visit to Holquin and Santiago de Cuba. I have been asked by TV2000, the network of the Italian bishops’ conference, to appear for two hours tomorrow on their morning show that will look at the Pope’s day in Cuba today and his prospects for the U.S. TV2000 wants to learn more about EWTN and our worldwide coverage, and to hear about my years at the Vatican, especially the period regarding St. John Paul’s 1998 trip to Cuba, the first ever by a Pope. I have some interesting background material for that!

Now, here’s today’s stories from


(Vatican Radio) Perhaps the event that created most media interest during Pope Francis’s first full day in Cuba was his meeting with revolutionary leader Fidel Castro.

During a private encounter at the 89-year-old retired President’s home, the Pope and Castro discussed religion and world affairs.

The meeting took place just hours after the Pope at Mass urged Cubans to serve one another and not ideology. His message reaches out as their Communist-ruled country enters a new era of closer ties with the United States.

During the afternoon Pope Francis also went to the Palace of the Revolution, where he held private talks for about an hour with President Raul Castro, Fidel’s 84-year-old younger brother.

At the conclusion of the busy day packed with events of both pastoral and a political nature, Vatican Radio’s Sean Patrick Lovett spoke to Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Head of the Vatican Press Office about the meetings between the Pope and the Castro brothers.

Sean Patrick Lovett recalls the fact that in 1988, when Mario Bergoglio was not yet even Archbishop of Buenos Aires “he wrote a little book called ‘Dialogues between John Paul II and Fidel Castro’. One of his conclusions in that book, after comparing the discourses of the two men, was that they had failed to listen to one another: there was not sufficient dialogue in their encounters” he says.

And pointing to the fact that 17 years have passed since then, Sean Lovett asks Fr Lombardi whether he thinks there is a “new kind of listening happening between the Pope and Cuba?”

Lombardi says he thinks that Cuba understands very well that the Catholic Church and the Popes are the world’s moral authorities today, and that they take Cuba, its history and its people very seriously. He says Cubans know that “they need a dialogue with the Popes”. Lombardi points out that the presence of 3 Popes in 17 years on the island and the help they have proffered in finding the way towards more openness is something really exceptional.

He says that history also shows how aware the Church has been regarding the importance of this land for the American continent. “I think that the experience of important diplomats like that of Cardinal Parolin who knows very well the region – he was nuncio in Venezuela – allows the Church to understand well the significance of Cuba for the Latin American continent.”

Lombardi also points out that if Cuba finds the way to become more open, it could become a bridge between continents and peoples. This, he says, will also help reconciliation between other peoples and encourage reconciliation in nations like Venezuela, Colombia and so on. “This is really important for this part of the world” he says.

He says the United States also understands very well the importance of a relationship with Cuba and points out that the process that is going on is a clear sign of this.

“Cuba is a very important point of encounter, as the Pope said yesterday, between North and South, between East and West. … I think the Castro brothers have understood very well that the Popes are great moral and religious authorities, that they are pastors that can give a contribution to the nation of invaluable importance” he says.


(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis on Monday traveled from the Cuban capital, Havana, to visit Holguin and Santiago de Cuba on the eastern tip of the Caribbean island nation.

Both cities are closely linked to the famous statue of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, formally declared patroness of the Cuban people by Pope Benedict XV a century ago.

Philippa Hitchen reports on this second stage of the Pope’s pastoral visit to Cuba:

The city of Holguin is famed as the birthplace of Cuba’s revolutionary leader Fidel Castro and his brother Raul, who between them have ruled the country since 1959. It’s also known for its five-metre high cross on the hillside that looks out over the city –and offers a unique view of he entire island of Cuba – where, at 3:34 pm local time, Pope Francis will stop to pray. He has already celebrated Mass in Holquin’s main square.

It was not far from the city of Holguin that Christopher Columbus first landed in Cuba in 1492 and it was in the bay there that three local fishermen first saw Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, floating on the water in 1612. The small wooden statue of Our Lady, wearing a gold mantle and holding the Infant Jesus in her left arm, is now housed in the shrine dedicated to her in the nearby city of Santiago de Cuba where the Pope will conclude his journey to the island nation.

Over the centuries many miracles have been attributed to Our Lady who’s seen as a powerful symbol of liberation during the struggle for independence from the Spanish and for the slaves, brought in to work the copper mines in the early 16th century. Descendants of those African slaves make up over 30 percent of Cuba’s population, yet they remain amongst the poorest inhabitants of the country.

Both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI came to pray at the shrine during their trips to Cuba and another famous visitor, author Ernest Hemingway, left his Nobel medal for Literature there as a sign of gratitude for the warm welcome he received from the people of Cuba.

Pope Francis will join the crowds of other pilgrims down the centuries who’ve come to pray before the statue of La Mambisa, as she’s popularly known. He’ll celebrate Mass there on Tuesday and rededicate the nation to her, before travelling on to Washington D.C. with the hopes of encouraging the ongoing ‘miracle’ of reconciliation between Cuba and the United States.


(Vatican Radio) A communiqué released today by the United Nations says the Holy See flag will fly at the UN building in New York when Pope Francis arrives there on Friday.


It says that after consultations with the Holy See, the United Nations will raise the flag of the Holy See for the first time on the morning of September 25, so that it will be flying when Pope Francis arrives at the UN Headquarters.

The Holy See and the United Nations Secretariat have agreed that the flag will be raised with no ceremony. UN personnel will raise it at the same time they will raise the other flags that day.

The flag of the Holy See has two vertical bands, one gold and one white. The white side features an image of two traversed keys, one gold and one silver, bound together by a red cord, and topped by a triple-crown or tiara crowned by a cross. The keys (Mt 16:19) and tiara are both traditional symbols of the papacy. It has been the official flag of the Holy See since 1929.