Thu | Sep 20, 2018

Pope marks special anniversary by flying to Cuba's east

Published:Tuesday | September 22, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Pope Francis salutes priests as he visits the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Saint Ignatius of Loyola, in Havana, Cuba.


Pope Francis marked a personal anniversary yesterday, the day he decided as a teenager to become a priest, by travelling to the Cuban city of Holguin, emphasising his papacy's focus on preaching the faith in places far from the international spotlight.

Francis celebrated Mass in the main plaza of Holguin, becoming the first pope to visit Cuba's third-largest city. He later headed to Santiago on Cuba's eastern end before departing for Washington this morning for the US leg of his two-nation trip to the former Cold War foes.

Yesterday was an important anniversary for the pope: On September 21, 1953, when Jorge Mario Bergoglio was 17, he went to confession at his parish church in the Flores neighbourhood of Buenos Aires. During his confession, he later wrote, he "realised God was waiting for me" and decided to enter the priesthood.

Bergoglio wouldn't enter the seminary for several more years, but September 21, the feast of St Matthew, has remained a crucial reference point for the pope. His motto, Miserando atque eligendo (Having had mercy, he called him), is inspired by the feast day.

Singing children and a small crowd waving Cuban and Vatican flags greeted Francis on arrival, some crying out, "Francis! Holguin is with you!" from the tarmac as the pope emerged from an Alitalia plane.

Holguin's Plaza of the Revolution was packed with thousands of people, many dressed in white to protect themselves from the sun. They waved flags as the pope travelled in his popemobile through the crowd.