June 27, 2019

Dozens of Cuba's younger generation welcome 'Papa Francisco,' seen here with then-Cuban President Raul Castro, in 'Cuban' Spanish slang singing '1, 2 y 3, qué Papa más chévere, qué Papa más chévere, el que nos vino a ver,

Dozens of Cuba's younger generation welcome 'Papa Francisco,' seen here with then-Cuban President Raul Castro, in 'Cuban' Spanish slang singing '1, 2 y 3, qué Papa más chévere, qué Papa más chévere, el que nos vino a ver," or "1, 2, 3, what a really cool Pope, what a really cool Pope, who's come to see us. (ROB O'NEAL/The Citizen)

Pope Francis’ historic visit to Cuba had been in the works for nearly a year before the hulking, Alitalia jetliner touched down outside Havana in 2015. Among several of his early accomplishments as the first pope from the Americas, Pope Francis is widely credited with the détente between the U.S. and Cuba. Unfortunately, the thawing, 54-year-old freeze in relations was quickly reversed a few short years later.

While meeting with delegations from the U.S. and Cuba in October 2014, Pope Francis urged both sides to finally “move forward.” So when the announcement came on Dec. 17, 2014, it caused this reporter to move forward, too. And to say “move forward,” naturally, I mean “freak out.” Quite simply, I had to be there. Having attended Catholic services only to shoot weddings, I never thought I’d be so pumped to see the pope, but since this was happening in Cuba, I knew the formula to get close to and photograph just about anyone down there, and Pope Francis would be no exception.

It can take a lot of time and money, but if a journalist can get the attention of the Cuban embassy in Washington, D.C., which is no easy feat, the embassy will happily issue a D-6 visa, which is basically a golden ticket to any news event in Cuba. However, this time around, the office was dealing with an avalanche of international requests, but thanks to a long lost national-level, Cuban-American journalist I had met at a Fidel Castro rally 12 years earlier, I was able to score my press visa rather easily, if not inexpensively.

When the day of the pope’s mass at the Plaza of the Revolution finally came, it was, of course, miserably hot. But despite the stifling heat and humidity, there was electricity in the air and I’m not ashamed to say, the sweat pouring down my face that morning was mixed with tears of joy. Around 8 a.m., a huge chorus began singing a song I’d never heard. It took a few days to figure out the title, but the song was written for Pope Francis and is titled “La Luz de Francisco” (The Light of Francisco) by fellow Argentinian Palito Ortega. YouTube it, it’s quite nice, I now love it.

Moments after the song began, there he was, zipping around in the “Popemobile” surrounded by a crowd estimated at more than a quarter of a million. But with the designated press area at a less-than-optimum distance from the altar, these mobile moments would end up being the best opportunity to photograph the global icon. Unfortunately, since I must print my images sparingly, that resulting photo will not appear in this week’s offering. I’ve stashed away my best shot for later.

Again, I don’t know much about Catholicism, but I must say, Pope Francis seems like a pretty hip individual. He is the first pope of Latin American descent and isn’t shy to shake things up a bit. Of course, he has his detractors, but at the very least, he has accomplished a lot more and looks a whole lot friendlier than the last one. Maybe he can call another meeting. Dare to dream.

This just in: Chances are, most of you out there are not news junkies. I’ve been one since about 1985, I know, it’s a sickness. The point is, in case you happened to miss it, a state-of-the-art Russian warship, armed with Cruise missiles, arrived in Havana Harbor on Tuesday. The fact it’s there is one thing, the fact it’s docked where American cruise ships had been less than three weeks ago is just plain weird. I would never, ever try to say I know much about foreign policy, but when I inadvertently photographed a Russian spy ship off Havana last year it got me thinking, so I went back to the column I submitted on May 17, 2018. It has a bunch of my typical opinionated tripe, but what I think bears repeating are below.

From the May 17, 2018 is “Man in Havana” column in Paradise This Week…

Until this afternoon, I had never heard of George Santayana. He was a Spanish-born poet, writer and professor at Harvard University around the turn of the 20th century as well as editor and cartoonist for the Harvard Lampoon. And while his most famous quote has been misquoted innumberably over the years, it was he who famously said in 1905 that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” However you say the quote, we needn’t look further than 1961 for this quote to apply to U.S.-Cuba relations. Just sayin’.

The obvious point is that by isolating our backyard neighbor, we are providing a strategic jumping off point for our fiercest enemy. Maybe that next papal meeting needs to happen sooner than later.