The Pontiff Has Landed! Pope Francis Arrives in Havana For Historic Trip and Meets with Cuban President Raul Castro
Pope Francis landed in Havana, Cuba, at 4:05 p,m, on Saturday after a 12-hour trip from Rome, officially beginning his historic four-day visit to the Caribbean island.
Upon arrival at the Jos Mart International Airport, the pope shook hands with Cuban President Raul Castro and representatives of the country’s Catholic Church in Cuba. Children were also at the airport to meet the religious leader.
The even wasn’t without some humor as the pope’s cap flew off while he was deplaning.
“We are honored by your visit. You will appreciate that we love our country, so we are willing to make the highest sacrifice,” Castro said during a reception for the pope at the airport.
The president also thanked the pope for his role as an intermediary between the United States and Cuba, which, in part, led to the restoration of diplomatic relations in 2014.
“Restoring relations has been a first step in the process of normalization between the two countries that requires solving many problems,” Castro said, before adding that the commercial, economic, and financial embargo imposed by the U.S. on Cuba is “cruel” and “must cease.”
After Castro spoke, the pontiff took to the podium during the reception to give his first public address on Cuban soil.
“Providence today enables me to come to this beloved nation, following the indelible path opened by the unforgettable apostolic journeys which my two predecessors – Saint John Paul II and Benedict XVI – made to this island, ” Francis said.
He said conversations between Cuba and the United States is “a sign of the victory of the culture of encounter and dialogue.”
“I urge political leaders to persevere on this path and to develop all its potentialities as a proof of the high service which they are called to carry out on behalf of the peace and well-being of their peoples, of all America, and as an example of reconciliation for the entire world.”
After the reception, the pope will be greeted by the country’s citizens while traveling through the streets of Havana to Cuba’s Vatican embassy, the Apostolic Nunciature – where he’ll reside during his time in the capital.
Hundreds gathered in hopes of catching a glimpse of the Argentinian pontiff.
One crowd member told PEOPLE she traveled from Buenos Aires, Argentina, for a chance to meet him.
“We are so excited, because we know the history and we know how he is. He is a very humble person and I think the world needs people like him,” Patricia Martinez y Claudia De Indio said.
She added that it was exciting to see the Cuban people celebrating in the streets.
“[I] hope this papal visit will serve to remove the embargo, which has separated our Cuban brothers and sisters from the rest of the world,” she told PEOPLE.
While in Cuba, the pope will host mass in the Plaza de la Revoluci n on Sunday morning, as well as formally meet with President Castro. He is also expected to meet with former leader Fidel Castro, as well as priests and seminarians.
The pope will land in the U.S. on Sept. 22, starting his six-day trip in Washington, D.C., and eventually traveling to New York City (for the United Nations General Assembly) and Philadelphia.
More than 2 million fans are expected to flock to his various appearances.
• Reporting by LESTER JIMENEZ
For more on Pope Francis’ private world and visit to America, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE