Pope Francis arrived in Havana Saturday afternoon to great fanfare at the beginning of a 10-day journey to Cuba and the United States.
Jubilant crowds welcomed history’s first Latin American pope, 73, to the island nation after he landed aboard an Alitalia flight from Rome. Applause and chants of anticipation could be heard as the airplane, with the Cuban and Vatican flags billowing above the cockpit, slowed to a halt on the runway.
Francis, an Argentine Jesuit, has been critical of both what he perceives to be the extremes of American capitalism and the atheism of Cuba’s revolution. But he also enjoys popularity in both countries, neither of which he had visited before.
Cubans laud the Argentine Jesuit for helping to restore diplomatic relations between the historically hostile countries. Last year, he personally appealed to U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro to end the half-century of enmity.
A woman holds up a banner of Pope Francis as she waits for his arrival outside the Apostolic Nunciature in Havana, Cuba, Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015. (Photo: Alessandra Tarantino/AP)
In his opening remarks, Castro said it was an honor to host Francis in their country and thanked him. But he also made more overtly political statements, lamenting the uneven distribution of wealth in the Americas.
“The present international system is immoral and unfair,” he said, as translated by The Guardian. “It has globalized capital and made its idol money.“
Then Francis, addressing the crowd, praised the progress made by the U.S. and Cuba, saying it could serve as an example of reconciliation for the entire world.
“For some months now, we have witnessed an event which fills us with hope,” Francis said,“ the process of normalizing relations between two peoples following years of estrangement.”
Viewers took to social media to chime in on opening moments of Francis’ historic visit.
Frei Betto, a Brazilian priest who is friends with Cuba’s rulers told reporters in Cuba that Francis helped re-establishment ties between the old Cold War enemies with tremendous skill.
“The pope has done so much, as a discreet statesman, to achieve this rapprochement,” Betto said.
A day before the flight, Francis asked his 7.15 million Twitter followers to pray for his trip to Cuba and the United States.