Father and son travel to Cuba to see the pope

Record Staff Writer

Wayne Cassady and his son Chris recently took part in a pilgrimage to see Pope Benedict XVI during the pope’s historic visit to Cuba. The father and son went to the island nation with a group from the Archdiocese of Miami.

Chris Cassady, left, who attends the Basilica of St. Joseph Proto-Cathedral in Bardstown, Ky., and his father Wayne Cassady, a parishioner at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, stood in the Plaza de la Catedral (Cathedral Square) in Old Havana. The father and son recently took part in a pilgrimage to Cuba to see Pope Benedict XVI.

Every January Wayne and his wife, Theresa, vacation in Key West, Fla. During their vacation, the couple — who are members of Our Lady of Lourdes Church — make time to attend Mass at the Basilica of St. Mary Star of the Sea in Key West.

“I saw an announcement in the bulletin about a pilgrimage to Cuba to see the Pope. It struck an interest in me and I mentioned it to Chris in passing. Chris responded ‘Not someday. Why not today?’ ” Wayne Cassady said.

This was in late January and Chris didn’t even have a passport. The two scrambled to get things in order and left for Cuba March 23.

This was the first time for either Wayne or Chris to visit Cuba and also their first time attending a papal Mass.

“I’ve always wanted to go to Cuba,” Wayne Cassady said. “I’m a sailor and have sailed near Cuba many times. I always wanted to visit legally. It was also important that I could go with my son. Also, to see people of faith come together to see the pope. These three things coming together was what really solidified the trip for me.”

With about 300 others from the Archdiocese of Miami, Wayne and Chris spent time in Santiago de Cuba and Havana.

“You could tell this was a lifetime event for people in Santiago. The world stopped when people looked up and saw Italian Air and knew the pope was aboard that plane,” Chris, a teacher at Bethlehem High School, recalled.

Besides the two papal Masses in Santiago de Cuba and Havana, Wayne and Chris visited iconic Cuban destinations such as the seawall, old Havana, Hotel Nacional and the El Cobre shrine.

“When we first decided to go, we wanted to take along a few things we could leave at churches or charities — first aid and toys,” said Wayne, who works as a civil engineer at the Riverport Authority.

“We put together five bags like that. We were constantly looking for opportunities to leave those,” Chris said.

Near the end of their stay in Cuba, the two took a taxi ride in Havana. They got a little turned around and were having a hard time explaining where they needed to go.

“Our driver was very helpful and didn’t over charge us. He was a real nice guy. We learned he had a couple of kids and that he loved baseball,” Chris said.

When they reached the hotel, the two retrieved the remaining bags of gifts and gave them to the taxi driver.

“His first reaction was to give us money. Once we explained they were a gift, we had a real genuine exchange, an immediate connection. He motioned upward and said ‘My God,’ then pointed at us and said ‘Your God’ and we said ‘Our God.’ That was the summation of the trip for me,” Chris said.

“It was certainly a faith-strengthening trip because of those kind of encounters,” Wayne noted.

For the father and son, being a part of an event as momentous as a papal visit will not soon be forgotten.

“It was something I’ll always look back on and remember as faith-affirming,” Chris said.

Wayne and Chris are currently working with a group from Greater Louisville Inc. that will be taking a trip to Cuba later this summer to put together more packs.

“One idea that we would like to convey is that if anyone else is traveling to Cuba, please consider taking some extra items to leave behind,” he said. “Also, we are interested in continuing to send packages to Cuba.”

For those interested in sending care packages to Cuba, contact Wayne Cassady by email at wcassady@jeffrvrpt.win.net.

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