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Pope Francis lands in Cuba, praises thaw

Pope Francis lands in Cuba, praises thaw
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Pope FrancisPope FrancisThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump, Biden search for undecided voters in final stretch Pope Francis names first Black US cardinal, Wilton Gregory The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Goldman Sachs - Iran, Russia election bombshell; final Prez debate tonight MORE was greeted by Cuban President Raúl Castro after he landed in Havana on Saturday, kicking off his North American tour.

The pontiff’s trip to the communist nation precedes his U.S. visit, where he will become the first pope to address the U.S. Congress. Francis praised the reconciliation between Cuba and the U.S.

"For some months now, we have witnessed an event which fills us with hope: the process of normalizing relations between two peoples following years of estrangement," Francis said in a speech on the airport tarmac.

"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 these peoples, of all America, and as an example of reconciliation for the entire world," he continued.

He also extended his greetings to Fidel Castro, with whom Francis is expected to meet on Sunday.

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Francis, the first Latin-American pope, helped restore relations between the U.S. and Cuba, starting with letters to President Obama and Castro in 2014 urging them to renew diplomatic efforts.

The leaders of the one-time Cold War foes spoke on Friday in anticipation of the Francis's visit.

Francis is set to give an open-air mass in Revolutionary Square in Havana on Sunday. Francis is expected to make immigration one of his U.S. tour’s central themes.

He will meet with immigrant groups on several occasions, visit sites important to Hispanic Catholics and canonize Spanish-born Junípero Serra, who built missions in California in the 18th century.

On Friday, Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), who is Catholic, said he would not attend Francis’s congressional address over the pope’s views on climate change.

Obama is using the Francis's visit to promote LGBT issues, inviting America’s first openly gay Episcopal bishop and transgender activists to Francis’s White House reception.

The Vatican has expressed disapproval of the move, saying photos with the activists could be perceived as official endorsement of their causes, which go against church teaching.

Francis will headline a ceremony on the South Lawn, where he and Obama will give remarks to a crowd expected to surpass 15,000.

— Updated at 6:27 p.m.