Pope`s next Cuba stop: Holguin and its famous cross

 Holguin, Pope Francis`s next destination on his high-profile trip to Cuba and the United States, is known for its iconic cross, built in 1790 but replaced after a lightning strike.

AFP| Last Updated: Sep 21, 2015, 01:24 AM IST

Holguin: Holguin, Pope Francis`s next destination on his high-profile trip to Cuba and the United States, is known for its iconic cross, built in 1790 but replaced after a lightning strike.

The five-meter (16-foot) cross looks out over the southeastern city from a hilltop, enclosed by a small balustrade.

Holguin is the capital of the province of the same name, the birthplace of Fidel and Raul Castro, the brothers who have ruled the Caribbean island since 1959.

The province includes the spot where Christopher Columbus first landed in Cuba in 1492.

And Holguin`s bay is where legend has it that locals first saw Cuba`s patron saint, Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, floating on the water in 1612.

With 291,000 people, Holguin is the fourth-largest city on the communist island.

Its economy centers largely on its deposits of nickel and the tourism industry around its beaches.

And while the other two stops on Francis`s Cuba trip -- the capital Havana and second city Santiago -- have featured on no less than three papal itineraries in the past 17 years, Holguin will be welcoming its first pope ever.

That is causing considerable excitement in the city, which has a long Catholic tradition but was not included in either pope Jean Paul II`s 1998 tour or Benedict XVI`s in 2012.

Francis will travel there Monday morning and deliver an open-air mass on Calixto Garcia Revolution Square, where 150,000 people are expected.

After the ceremony, he will travel by car to the cross on the 260-meter-tall hilltop, from which he will bless the city.

Franciscan monk Francisco Antonio Alegria first installed a wooden cross there in May 1790, carrying it all the way up on his shoulders.

The landmark has endured through 225 years of hurricanes and decades of tensions between the Church and Cuba`s communist regime, which was officially atheist until 1992.

The cross in place today is not the original, however.

In 1950, the weather-beaten wood cross Alegria first hauled up the hill was replaced with a new version.

That one too had to be replaced in the 1990s after it was struck by lightning.

After visiting the cross, Francis will continue on to Santiago, the cradle of Cuba`s 1959 revolution.