Nearly a million Cubans expected at pope’s mass on Revolution Square in Havana

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Latest update : 2015-09-20

Pope Francis will give mass Sunday on Revolution Square in Havana, the biggest event of his trip to Cuba, with nearly a million people expected to attend.

The pope, who arrived on the communist island Saturday, will address the crowd beside a towering sculpture of his fellow Argentine Che Guevara’s iconic silhouette, following in the footsteps of his predecessors John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

Cuban President Raul Castro and Argentina’s Cristina Kirchner will be among those in attendance.

The pope’s eight-day tour, which will also take him to the United States for the first time, follows the announcement of the US-Cuban rapprochement, which paved the way for the estranged neighbors to renew diplomatic relations in July.

Francis, the first Latin American pontiff, helped facilitate that moment in secret negotiations.

The pope received a tropically warm welcome on arrival in the Cuban capital Saturday afternoon, when tens of thousands of people braved the heat and humidity to greet him with dancing, cheers and banners along the route from the airport to the Vatican nunciature.

Castro welcomed him with a lengthy speech that hit repeatedly on some of the pope’s favorite themes: caring for the planet, fighting inequality and promoting peace.

After mass, the pope will meet with Castro, then preside over vespers at Havana Cathedral before holding an unscripted exchange with young Cubans — a demographic feeling the pain of the communist island’s difficult economic transition.

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