"We have faith but we know that this change depends on us Cubans," says Mr. Payá, the 2005 nominee for the Nobel Prize and the country's foremost opposition figure. "Our hope for the [pope’s visit] isn't a political change but we want a voice."
The opposition group Las Damas de Blanco, or the Ladies in White, agrees. These women are largely the wives and family members of dissidents arrested in the wake of the Black Spring of 2003, when 75 dissidents, including many journalists, were arrested by Cuban authorities. Every Sunday, the Ladies protest and march through Havana, however last weekend more than 70 were arrested, and released just hours later.
"The arrival of His Holiness here in Cuba brings a message of love which we the people of Cuba need because we are suffering," says Berta Soler, the leader of the group. She noted many of the Ladies in White were beaten by police during their arrest, yet, they returned to the same church yesterday to continue their weekly ritual of protest. This time, an audience of international press far outnumbered protesters themselves, and though Cuban authorities were present, they did not interfere outside the Santa Rita church on Havana's 5th Avenue, in one of the city's wealthier areas.
"The Cuban people need to have their human rights respected. It's necessary for our freedom,” says Ms. Soler. “But, the pope won't bring freedom,” she says, echoing Payá’s sentiment that Cubans must achieve freedom for themselves.
Inside the church, Father José Pérez Riera was diplomatic in his reaction to what some claim is the hijacking of the Church for political gain. "It's very difficult today for the pope to visit a country without political implications," he says, flanked by posters publicizing Pope Benedict XVI’s visit.