Pope Francis is traveling through eastern Cuba today as part of his historic visit to the island. After arriving in Havana on Saturday, the leader of the Catholic Church said mass before one of his largest audiences yet. An estimated 300,000 people gathered in Cuba's Plaza de la Revolución to hear him speak on Sunday.
"God's holy and faithful people in Cuba is a people with a taste for celebrations, for friendship, for beautiful things. It is a people which marches with songs of praise. It is a people which has its wounds, like every other people, yet knows how to stand up with open arms, to keep walking in hope, because it has a vocation of grandeur," Pope Francis preached
Cubans from every part of the country prepared for the pope's arrival by hanging photos of him in store windows, taxis, and in their homes; buying new outfits, preparing gifts, and journeying to greet him. Even practitioners of Santeria, a blend of African and Catholic faiths practiced by many Cubans, said they greeted the Pope with open arms.
"His visit is great, because he is fighting for peace on Earth. This pope is adored here. Here in Cuba, we will take you out to dance, to have fun, but don’t talk bad about the revolution. [If you do], you are not welcome back," a 90-year-old Santeria practitioner named Careta told Refinery29.
As the first pope chosen from Latin America, Francis has a special place in many Cubans' hearts. The pontiff's visit also comes at a time when Cuba is undergoing a transformation and a transition. Although Cuba is still ruled by Communist leader Raul Castro, it began reestablishing political and diplomatic relations with the U.S. this summer after 54 years.
The two nations formally reestablished diplomatic relations
on July 20, reopening their respective embassies. The U.S. and Cuba severed ties after Communist forces, led by Fidel Castro, overthrew the U.S.-backed government of Fulgencio Batista in 1959. The pope met with Castro on Sunday, according to a Vatican spokesman.
For perhaps the first time, the Obama administration is considering abstaining from a vote on the embargo that is held yearly during the United Nations General Assembly, according to the Associated Press
. Historically, the U.S. has always voted in favor of its embargo, while the majority of the countries around the world condemn it.
To understand the importance of the Pope's visit, as well as how Cubans feel about these major changes, Refinery29 spoke to women around in Havana to hear their perspectives.
Photo caption: Careta, a 90-year-old Santeria practitioner, waits for the pope to arrive in Havana.