The Miami pilgrims' visit to her shrine in El Cobre moved Saladrigas' wife Olga to tears. "I felt like I had two countries and that I belonged in Cuba. It was very beautiful. I felt so, so close to the Cuban people,'' she said.
"In Benedict's farewell discourse, he said that Cuba has to become a home for all Cubans. That said a lot without saying it in a strident way... This is what will open a future of hope for Cubans,'' said Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski, whose homily at a mass in Havana's Cathedral urging Cubans to be "protagonists of their own future'' brought people to their feet in a standing ovation.
Margarita Montemar, a retired Miami Dade College math professor who made the pilgrimage, thinks back on her trip often. Catholics, she said, will have to wait with patience for the fruits of the visit. "My prayer and hope is that the next pope will visit a free Cuba,'' she said as she leafed through a photo album from the trip. "Pope Benedict's visit was of a pastor to help people keep the faith and win over lost sheep.''
She said she would visit Cuba again if the circumstances were right. "In a way, this trip made me more committed to the freedom of Cuba,'' she said.
And before she left the island, Montemar wrote in her journal: "The pope's visit will mark a before and after in the history of our country.''
Father Luis del Castillo, who works at the Sagrada Familia parish in Santiago and is a retired Uruguayan bishop, said it's difficult to measure the impact of Benedict's visit.
"There are many elements that have had a strong influence through the year. How much has to do with the papal visit and how much to do with the Jubilee (the full year of celebration commemorating the 400th anniversary) is very difficult to evaluate,'' said del Castillo.
Among the factors that has had an impact, he said, is Hurricane Sandy, which walloped Eastern Cuba in October, as well as the ongoing difficulties of daily life in Cuba.
Thousands of homes in Santiago were destroyed or damaged, five Catholic churches were leveled and others lost their roofs. But the faithful have persevered. The parishioners of San Vicente, a wooden church flattened during the hurricane, held their mass in the open air on Palm Sunday and other masses were held under makeshift canopies, said del Castillo.
Now with Pope Francis installed, Gomez said he hopes the Vatican will take a more activist role in Cuba. His wishes: that the pope beef up its diplomatic representative in Havana when a new papal nuncio is appointed, acceptance of a letter of resignation that Cardinal Jaime Ortega submitted when he turned 75 in October 2011, and appointment of a new cardinal who takes more interest in human rights and freedom of expression.
During Benedict's visit, he was criticized for not meeting with dissidents and human right activists and Ortega, the archbishop of Havana, has drawn criticism from some dissidents who say he is too close to the Cuban government.
"If the church wants to make an impact in Cuba, it needs a very strong Vatican representative and a strong cardinal,'' Gomez said.
But Wenski said the legacy of Benedict's visit and his message of reconciliation, the importance of family and more space for the Cuban Church is yet to be written.
"He put into motion a lot of things that are still germinating -- a lot of the effects of the visit are yet to be seen,'' the archbishop said.
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