.- In the days leading up to Pope Benedict XVI’s historic visit to Cuba, pilgrims to the country are gaining glimpses into the Church’s joys and sufferings through visits to holy sites in the capital city of Havana.
After first traveling to the city of Santiago de Cuba, the Pope will arrive in Havana on March 27.
In recent days, groups of pilgrims from countries including the United States, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic have participated in Masses at the Havana Cathedral, which is the seat of Cardinal Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino.
The cathedral is known for its baroque facade and European-style art and the inside walls are adorned with paintings, frescoes and statues of saints.
Built by Jesuits in the middle of the 1700s, the cathedral is located in the former swampland area known as the Plaza de La Ciénaga.
Its history and architectural beauty are attracting the admiration of numerous groups of pilgrims, many of whom are visiting the country for the first time.
Not far from the Plaza de la Revolución, where the Pope will celebrate Mass on March 28, sits the Cementerio de Cristóbal Colón.
Named after Christopher Columbus, the cemetery has also received an influx of visitors in the days leading up to the Holy Father’s arrival in the city.
The 140-acre cemetery – among the most prominent in Latin America – houses numerous elaborate graves and ornate monuments.
Built in the 1870s, the cemetery is constructed with marble from around the world and features an ornate triple arch at its entrance.
The brilliant white marble is well maintained, standing in stark contrast to the disrepair that characterizes much of the city.
More than 1 million people have been buried in the cemetery, including Cardinal Manuel Arteaga y Betancourt of Havana, Cuban president José Miguel Gómez and U.S. Congressman Harrison E. Havens.
An important part of Christian tradition, the cemetery stands in the center of the city, a reminder of the Cuban people’s suffering.
Pope Benedict’s visit will reach out to a nation that is no stranger to suffering, subject to both political repression under an authoritarian regime and economic sanctions from members of the international community.
Vatican press director Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J. has called the pontiff's visit a “journey of hope” for a people that may be on the verge of “a new epoch” in their history.
On the papal plane on March 23, Pope Benedict cautioned that “Marxist ideology as it had been conceived no longer responds to reality.”
He called for patience and dialogue in developing “new models” for the country and emphasized that the Catholic Church is “not a political power” but “a moral power” in the pursuit for justice.