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A highly anticipated journey

· On the flight from Rome to Cuba ·

Despite the “challenging and jam-packed” schedule, the journey has been “highly anticipated: by my brother Kirill, by myself and by the Mexican people”, Pope Francis said, describing the stop in Cuba to meet with the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, and then on to Mexico.

Shortly after the flight to Havana took off on Friday morning, 12 February, the Pontiff gave his traditional greeting to the 76 journalists accompanying him, about a dozen of whom are Mexican. Before greeting them one by one, he thanked them for their presence and for their dedication to the trip, which was to end on Thursday the 18th. He then improvised a brief reflection on the spiritual motivations for the trip.

“My most heartfelt desire”, he admitted, “is to stand before Our Lady of Guadalupe”, whose “mystery has been studied” but for which “there are no human explanations”. Because, he added, even “the most scientific study says: “This is from God’”. And this, Francis emphasized, makes even some Mexicans say: “I’m an atheist, but I’m also a Guadalupano”. Thus, this is a Marian devotion rooted deep in the culture of the people preparing to embrace the first Latin American Pope — the one who has also referred to several of the country’s particular details. For example, at the General Audience on Wednesday, 10 February, he recalled the gift given to him by Valentina Alazraki, a reporter on the Vatican for Televisa, and dean of the journalists accredited to the Holy See Press Office. The gift was a collection of films starring Fortino Mario Alfonso Moreno Reyes, a well known Mexican actor-comedian, known by the stage name Cantinflas (1911-1993). “Thus I entered Mexico through the door of Cantinflas, who really makes you laugh”, Francis commented. Or the time that he put on the sombrero also given to him by Alazraki in order to help him “feel Mexican”, the journalist said. “I gave the first one to John Paul ii 37 years ago. Then, it became a collector’s item because it made five journeys. Pope Benedict wore it in Guanajuato and said that he felt Mexican”. The one for Francis actually came from Cuba. “A Mexican family brought it to Cuba for him, but were unable to give it to you”, the journalist recalled, “and they left it with me. I promised to give it to you, in the event you kept your promise to go to Mexico”. I never imagined that the sombrero would return to Cuba. This was a surprise”.

Lastly, the Pontiff expressed his gratitude to the organizer of the trip, Alberto Gasbarri, who concluded his service in Mexico over the agenda to Msgr Mauricio Rueda Beltz, official of the Secretariat of State. Administrative director at Vatican Radio where he has worked for 47 years, Gasbarri worked for papal journeys. “I say this,” the Pope concluded, “so we can, during these days, thank him and celebrate a little party when we return”.

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