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HAVANA, Sept. 21 (AP) Pope Francis met with Fidel Castro today after urging thousands of Cubans to serve one another and not an ideology during a Mass celebrated in Havana’s iconic Revolution Plaza. The Vatican described the 40-minute meeting at Castro’s residence as informal.

Francis is hailing detente between the United States and Cuba as a model of reconciliation. He urges Presidents Barack Obama and Castro to continue working to build normal ties as the pontiff begins a 10-day tour of the former Cold War foes.

Francis served as mediator for the resumption of diplomatic relations this year. He says, “I urge political leaders to persevere on this path and to develop all its potentialities.”

Francis calls the negotiations that led to the reopening of embassies in Havana and Washington “an example of reconciliation for the entire world.”

Francis presided over a vespers service in Havana’s 18th century Immaculate Conception and San Cristobal cathedral on Sunday.

Bells rang out and a few hundred excited and sweaty priests and sisters clapped and shouted “Francisco!” as the pope arrived. An organ broke into a celebratory hymn.

The cathedral was first started by priests of Francis’ Jesuit order and the facade was designed by the Italian architect Borromini. It boasts a large bronze statue of St. John Paul II, who became the first pope to visit Cuba in 1998, as well as a replica of the Virgin of Charity of Cobre, Cuba’s patron saint.

havana-live-pope francisHAVANA, 19 Sept.  (AP)   The latest developments in Pope Francis’ visit to Cuba and the United States. All times local:

5:21 p.m.

Francis is traveling through the streets of Havana, waving to excited crowds from the latest version of the iconic popemobile.

Thousands of Cubans are along the route from the Jose Marti International Airport to the home of the Vatican’s ambassador to Cuba, where the pontiff is to spend the night.Download

Many are waving Cuban and Vatican flags. Near the residence, a group of nuns is singing the Lord’s Prayer to the rhythm of traditional Cuban “son” music. One woman holds a sign that reads: “Francis, you bring us hope.”

There’s also a near-continuous line of security agents forming a human barricade.

4:50 p.m.

Pope Francis has been given a red-carpet welcome in Havana complete with a military honor guard and a handshake from a dark-suited Raul Castro.

Smiling children handed him flowers, and a band played the Cuban national anthem before Castro and then the pope took turns speaking.

Island church leaders were also on hand to greet the pontiff.

4:40 p.m.

Pope Francis is hailing detente between the United States and Cuba as a model of reconciliation. He urges Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro to continue working to build normal ties as the pontiff begins a 10-day tour of the former Cold War foes.

Francis served as mediator for the resumption of diplomatic relations this year. He says, “I urge political leaders to persevere on this path and to develop all its potentialities.”

Francis calls the negotiations that led to the reopening of embassies in Havana and Washington “an example of reconciliation for the entire world.”

At an airport arrival ceremony headed by President Raul Castro, Francis says he wants his greeting “to embrace especially all those who, for various reasons, I will not be able to meet” — a possible nod to political dissidents as well as average Cubans.

4:30 p.m.

Cuban President Raul Castro is praising Pope Francis’ critiques of the global economic system, saying it has “globalized capital and turned money into its idol.”

In a lengthy speech welcoming the pope at Havana’s international airport, Castro says Cuba’s communist government has “founded an equitable society with social justice.” He thanks the pope for mediating negotiations on detente between the United States and Cuba.

Castro is also calling for the end of the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba and the return of the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay.

3:51 p.m.

Pope Francis has landed in Havana, launching a historic 10-day trip to Cuba and the United States after serving as secret mediator of the historic rapprochement between the former Cold War foes.

Cuban President Raul Castro is at the airport to welcome the pontiff, who will be offering a show of solidarity with Cubans and delivering a message in the United States that Hispanics are the bedrock of the American church.

2:45 p.m.

Hundreds of people are beginning to gather along the route where Pope Francis will travel when he arrives in Cuba.

They include five Salvadoran citizens waiting on a street closed to traffic in a leafy neighborhood of western Havana, where Francis is to overnight at the papal ambassador’s residence.

Sandra del Moreno traveled from San Salvador with four friends and was clutching the Central American nation’s flag.

The 51-year-old woman said “We love this pope, although we would have liked it if he had visited El Salvador.”

A block away three kids were playing with a ball made from rags.

Ten-year-old Kevin Duvergel and 9-year-old Marlos Duenas exclaimed in unison: “Pope Francis is going to pass by!”

1:55 p.m.

Not everyone in Havana is thrilled at being asked to turn out for the pope.

State-employed medical office worker Rafael Rivero says he’s not sure if he will come watch Francis’ motorcade, and many co-workers feel the same way.
http://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2015/09/19/the-latest-argentine-president-in-cuba-as-pope-to-arrive

havana-live-prisoners-rights_600HAVANA, Sept, 11 (AFP) – Cuba’s government pardoned 3,522 prisoners, the most since the 1959 revolution, as a gesture of goodwill ahead of Pope Francis’s visit to the communist island, the official daily Granma said Friday.

Among those pardoned are people over 60 years old, younger than 20 years old with no criminal record, the chronically ill, women and foreigners, provided their country of origin vows to repatriate them, the newspaper said.

The decision is due to be effective within 72 hours.

“On the occasion of the visit by His Holiness Pope Francis, the Council of State of the Republic of Cuba (the highest governmental body)… agreed to pardon 3,522 prisoners, chosen due by the nature of the acts for which they were jailed, their behavior in prison, the time of punishment and health concerns,” Granma said.

On December 28, 2011, Raul Castro’s government granted a pardon to 2,991 prisoners on the occasion of a visit by pope Benedict (who came in March 2012).

That was about 10 times more than revolutionary leader Fidel freed a month after the visit of John Paul II, in January 1998.

The latest prisoner release is the largest since the 1959 revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power, who was replaced for health reasons by his brother Raul in 2006.

In January this year, as a gesture of goodwill after the historic detente with the United States, the communist government pardoned 53 inmates Washington considered “political prisoners”.