Postcard from Havana

"And now I turn you over to the Cuban people," the young woman from the Ministry of Tourism said, gesturing toward Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution where hundreds of thousands waited for Mass to begin. Her words were meant kindly-and, for me, it worked. I had expected our trip, put together in Miami at the last minute, would be a circumscribed experience. We (cardinals, bishops, priests, and lay people) would fly to Havana at 5 a.m., go straight to the Mass, and return immediately after. Our first attempt to land in Havana ended in a scary maneuver. I assured myself: no plane with so much ecclesiastical purple on it could crash.

Tour buses met us, complete with young women in red flight-attendant uniforms. On the brief drive to Havana, we drew alongside a caravan of rickety buses from San Luis. Their passengers held small homemade paper flags. We were soon exchanging peace signs and thumbs up. One of our group wrote "Viva El Papa." Nods and applause.

The altar was five football fields away, and the crowd was enormous. Standing at the edge, I saw many families with children and groups of teen-agers wearing tee shirts that said, "Juan Pablo II: Mensajero De La Verdad La Esperanza." There were no vendors and nothing for sale. I got my flags from an older black man, a self-appointed distributor. Just then, the San Luis bus group arrived carrying yellow balloons and processed toward the front with a little...

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About the Author

Mary Pat Kelly, inveterate traveler and frequent Commonweal contributor, is the author of the novel Special Intentions (Dublin: New Island, 1997).