- Title: POPE-CUBA/TESTS Cuban 'Papal Choir' prepares ahead of Francis' visit
- Date: 14th September 2015
- Summary: VARIOUS OF CHILDREN COMING DOWN FROM REHEARSAL ALTAR
- Embargoed: 29th September 2015 13:00
- Location: Cuba
- Country: Cuba
- Topics: General
- Reuters ID: LVABAR6BGC2F58J7JAZUNM2BWVH
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: Three hundred musicians and choristers rehearsed in Havana's Revolution Square on Monday (September 14), coming together from local groups to form the so-called "Papal Choir" ahead of Pope Francis's visit to the communist-led island on September 19.
Music stands were set up in the iconic square alongside the pontiff's chair and an altar, ready for the mass Francis will deliver during his first visit to the island as head of the Catholic Church.
Under the midday sun, where many shaded under parasols, the director of the choir and orchestra Jose Antonio Mendez said that despite climactic challenges, preparations had been continuing well.
"I have felt very good about the response I have had from them. At the end of the day they are the instrument, I just bring them together and guide them a little towards playing their music, but the 300 people between the choir and the orchestra, have responded very well so I feel very confident. The worst thing is the weather, it is almost impossible to rehearse here at this time of day. The instruments go out of tune, it's too sunny, there are people in the choir who are 70 or 80-years-old and in this weather they do not feel well. But we will carry on," said Mendez.
Francis will be the third pontiff in a row to visit Cuba and contributed to the Vatican mediation that led to the resumption of diplomatic ties between Washington and Havana last year after a rupture that lasted more than half a century.
The visit is also part of steadily improving relations between Cuba and the Catholic Church after decades of strained ties in the years after the 1959 Cuban Revolution led by Fidel Castro.
"This is a very important moment in history, above all for Cuban history. To welcome the pope is something very important, and I feel very good, very moved, we are waiting to welcome him with great happiness," said Sister Maria Angel.
Rehearsals began in the square last week, with musicians determined to deliver a spectacular performance of the strictly Cuban compositions included in the mass.
"We are going to rehearse here with the choir, we are going to prepare everything for the big day," said violinist Ayla Martinez.
"This week for me is filled with great joy and nerves. It is something new for our country, our people, the Cuban Church," added Sister Luciana Maria del Carvalho.
Cuba said last week that it would pardon and release 3,522 prisoners on the occasion of the visit, repeating similar actions it took ahead of two previous papal visits.
But controversy returned as Cuban police detained about 50 people when a predominantly Roman Catholic dissident group led a march in Havana on Sunday.
Such detentions have become common following regular Sunday marches by the Ladies in White, a group that has criticised the Roman Catholic Church and Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega for failing to advocate on its behalf with the Cuban government.
Ladies in White leader Berta Soler told Reuters the women planned to attend masses that Pope Francis will lead in Havana and Holguin. The Pope will also visit Santiago de Cuba on a swing leading on to the United States.
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