When Pope Francis visits Cuba in mid-September, there to greet him will be Belmont Savings Bank CEO Bob Mahoney with a group of approximately 135 Catholics from the Archdiocese of Boston.
“It should be just an amazing experience,” said Mahoney, Belmont Savings’ president and chief executive officer in an interview with the Boston Pilot.
Mahoney, a member of the Archdiocesan Finance Council who is helping to organize the trip,, said the group will attend the Mass Francis will celebrate Sept. 20 in Havana’s Revolution Square. The group will also sightsee Old Havana, attend local musical performances and visit the Caritas Cubana mission at Iglesia San Agustin, where a previous Boston delegation donated a new kitchen.
It will also be opportunity for the Boston delegation to visit and travel to the island nation during a time of monumental change as the United States and Cuba normalize relations after more that a half century of isolation.
“It’s just an amazing experience, getting to go to Cuba while Cuba is still Cuba,” Mahoney said as the communist country begins to welcome American investment and tourism.
Mahoney told the Pilot there is a possibility the delegation could be on the first direct flight from Boston to Havana when they depart on Sept. 18.
“That would be pretty cool,” said Mahoney, who has visited Cuba twice, once when Pope St. John Paul II traveled there in 1998, and when Pope Benedict XVI visited the island in 2012.
Pope Francis will visit Cuba Sept. 19-22 for his tenth trip abroad since becoming pope in 2013. He will meet with Cuban President Raul Castro, local religious groups and families, and will celebrate Mass in Revolution Square that Mahoney compared to “four Boston City Hall Plazas.”
“There will be well over a million people,” Mahoney told the Pilot.
The pope will then visit the United States for a five-day visit, Sept. 22-27, which includes attending the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, meeting with President Obama and giving the first papal address to a joint session of Congress.
Pope Francis and the Vatican played a key role in engineering talks between Cuba and the United States. The pope wrote letters to the presidents of both countries and tasked the archbishop of Havana to act as an intermediary.
Mahoney said there are still about three-dozen available slots for the trip, which costs $4,500 per person, or $8,000 per couple. That includes airfare, rooms, tourist activities and meals. There are special group discounts, inquire for details.
“It’s an amazing opportunity,” Mahoney said.
For more information, contact Donis Tracy, Educational Travel Alliance, Inc. (www.ETAcuba.com), at 617-610-3776 or DonisT.firstname.lastname@example.org.