Catholic News ServicePeople stand outside Shrine of Our Lady of Charity as Pope Francis celebrates Mass in El Cobre.
Catholic News Service
People stand outside Shrine of Our Lady of Charity as Pope Francis celebrates Mass in El Cobre.

MIAMI — In just three years between the past two papal visits to Cuba, retired Miami academic Andy Gomez remains disturbed by what he said is an alarming uptick in poverty and urban decay in the island nation’s capital. A retired assistant provost and dean of international studies at the University of Miami, where he also was a senior fellow at the university’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American studies, Gomez, his wife and several hundred South Florida Catholics made a Sept. 18-21 pilgrimage to Havana in support of the pope’s visit to Cuba before his U.S. trip.

Led by Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski, the Florida delegation included clergy, adults, families and young adults who encountered Pope Francis during his events in Havana.

Ever since a chance meeting with Cuban seminarians in 2012, during Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Cuba, Gomez developed friendships at one of Havana’s oldest and most historic churches, Santuario de Nuestra Senora de la Merced, a Catholic shrine in Old Havana dedicated to Our Lady of Mercy. With his wife, Frances Serantes Gomez, he delivered donations of humanitarian aid and religious items in September to the parish during the archdiocesan-sponsored pilgrimage in support of Pope Francis’ visit to Cuba.